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This "Party" Needs a New Caterer

"Party Come Here"

Book by Daniel Goldfarb, music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum, directed by Christopher Ashley, choreography by Dan Knechtges, musical direction by Vadim Feichtner, sets by G.W. Mercier, costumes by David C. Woolard, lights by Howell Binkley, sound by Jim van Bergen, orchestrations by Lynne Shankel, vocal arrangements by Carmel Dean

Cast

Jack, Hunter Foster
Orlando, Malcolm Gets
Wood, Adam Heller
Liberty, Kaitlin Hopkins
Kate, Kate Reinders
Volere, Chaunteé Schuler
Ensemble, Jordan Barbour, Clifton Alphonzo Duncan, Kate Roberts, Sarah Turner

"Party Come Here," Daniel Goldfarb and David Kirshenbaum's new musical which recently received its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts, tries awfully hard to be hip, fun and poignant all at the same time. Unfortunately, it's that very effort that makes this jarringly self-conscious tale of a soul-searching young Jewish man caught in the swirl of conflicting cultures fail to rise like the helium filled balloon it clearly wants to be.

Goldfarb's contrived book is the major culprit in weighing down this fanciful fable, although Kirshenbaum's nondescript score and Christopher Ashley's uninspired direction don't give the show much lift, either. Despite flashes of depth hiding beneath an all too slick exterior, "Party Come Here" is basically a superficial parade of one-dimensional – and often unlikable – characters trying desperately to be meaningful symbols of contemporary urban alienation.

At the center is the milquetoast hero Jack (Hunter Foster), a bewildered straight arrow of a guy whose spoiled fiancée, Kate (Kate Reinders), dumps him at the altar because she decides that marriage isn't what she wants. What she wants instead (cue the '60s style pop song "That's What I Want") is to meet Jack's ne'er-do-well father, Wood (Adam Heller), a gold lamé sweat suit wearing middle aged cliché of a boor that Kate thinks sounds fascinating. Why? Because a) he's rich and b) he's living a hedonistically blissful life in Rio de Janeiro with his new 20-something Brazilian wife, Volere (Chaunteé Schuler), an English language challenged beauty for whom Wood divorced Jack's acerbic mother, Liberty (Kaitlin Hopkins). Liberty, it seems, can do it all, and she's not afraid to say so. She is a self-professed world class caterer and a former Olympic skiing champion. She is also someone you could quite easily picture eating her young.

So, wimp that Jack is, he promptly whisks Kate off to Rio, and in no time at all he assumes his usual place in the family – the outsider looking in. This rejection prompts one of the few true and touching moments of the musical. Foster caresses Jack's loneliness like an old friend as he sadly sings the lovely ballad, "The Boy Who Could Always Disappear."

Whenever "Party Come Here" focuses on Jack's story, the musical shows promise. He is a likable Average Joe who is trying to find his way in an emotionally unsatisfying world. His chance encounter with a 500-year-old cave-dwelling Jewish recluse named Orlando (Malcolm Gets) – whose own religious persecution during the Spanish Inquisition prompted him to choose an eternity of self-imposed exile that has grown over the centuries into full-blown paranoia – inadvertently puts Jack on the road to self discovery and spiritual redemption. Mix Orlando's strangely comic musical history lessons called "You're a Jew" and "Everybody Hates" with the looming presence of Rio's mythic Christ the Redeemer statue, and you see distinct possibilities for truth being revealed through absurdity.

The problems come when the story shifts back to the antagonists, characters Goldfarb has drawn as cartoon representatives of what's wrong with our culture rather than as real people whose struggles just happen to come in conflict with Jack's. Liberty, while self-absorbed and impossibly driven, is at least colorful and fun. She has the best comic lines in the show, and Kaitlin Hopkins delivers them with delicious narcissism. Kate and Wood, however, are just plain obnoxious. At one point when they are copulating on Wood's solid gold dining table and Kate purrs, "Spank me, Daddy," you want to yell, "Harder." She's an insufferable brat.

It doesn't help matters that Reinders still seems to be playing Glinda from "Wicked," channeling a vapid Kristin Chenoweth clone with all of her patented perkiness but none of her substance. And Adam Heller as Wood is as far from charming as a Donald Trump wannabe can get. Why three women – his ex-wife, his current wife, and his son's fiancée – all want to bed this anti-stud is beyond comprehension.

As the trophy wife Volere, Schuler manages to add sensitivity and heart to a character that could easily be played as a simple-minded strumpet. It's her devotion to and belief in the magical powers of Christ the Redeemer that provide the storyline with an aura of mysticism and hope.

Musical numbers, with the few noted exceptions, sound fairly generic. The dominant '60s pop idiom laced with subtle salsa rhythms are reminiscent of Julio Mendes and Brazil '66, but they lack warmth or embraceable melodies. Lyrics in many numbers are tongue-twisting exercises in exposition. When talents like Hunter Foster and Malcolm Gets have difficulty getting comfortable with a song, you know there's a problem with the structure. Choreography by Dan Knechtges is equally mundane. The small ensemble that serves as a throw-away Greek chorus does little more than repeat standard Frug and Pony moves that littered the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movie musicals of the past.

Having enjoyed "Summer of '42" a great deal, this reviewer was looking forward to another musical with a score by David Kirshenbaum. Unfortunately, "Party Come Here" lacks the tightness, consistency and polish of that previous work. There's a kernel of a good story and songs there. Goldfarb and Kirshenbaum just need to bake a sturdier cake before adding so much frosting.

PHOTOS

Hunter Foster as Jack and Malcolm Gets as Orlando; Kate Reinders as Kate and Adam Heller as Wood; Chaunteé Schuler as Volere and Kate Reinders as Kate

 


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