BWW Reviews: THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOM IN NEW YORK in New Haven
Mix Adam Gopnik, prolific writer of wonderful articles and books together with David Shire, prolific composer of theater, film, and television. Then add an amazing cast and crew, and audiences should experience a delightful time in the new musical, The Most Beautiful Room in New York. Alas, the pleasant show left you feeling as if you were overindulging and yet are not quite satisfied.
Chef David Kaplan (Matt Bogart) owns Table, a small but successful restaurant in their brownstone in Union Square. He originally called it La Table, but the capital letters L and A were stolen years ago. His wife Claire (Anastasia Barzee) is the front manager and their children, Bix (Tyler Jones) and Kate (Sawyer Niehaus) help out after school. Also, opposite Table is a green market that sells fresh produce and flowers and is run by their friends, Phoebe (Darlesia Cearcy) and Gloria (Danielle Ferland), who are married to each other. They all knew their leases would go up, but the Kaplans were not prepared for a sevenfold increase. His solution is to go back to his former investor Sergio (Constantine Maroulis), a man with three ambitious in life in this order- to make more and more money, to get back his former flame, Claire, and to restore his credibility in the hospitality business. What's messy is not what you expect because of their 20-year-reunion, but the impish delight he takes in transforming a nice family restaurant into another chain in his food empire. In addition, there are air rights to the buildings that surround Table, and Sergio would rather exploit those than reunite with Claire. A subplot revolves around the proletarian revolution seeking Carlo (Mark Nelson) who runs Anarchist Pizza in Bensonhurst with the help of his daughter, Anna (Krystina Alabado). He is the one who stole the letters L and A. And, predictably, Anna and Bix click and start a green pizza stand under Carlos's place.
No doubt everyone knows that soaring rents cause people to move their households and their businesses. But being able to stay in Union Square means almost everything to David. He was originally from Bensonhurst, and that's the last place he wants to return. Guess what? He does. And he calls the apartment over Anarchist Pizza Seattle, because he and Claire promised their children that they would move to the city that overlooks the Puget Sound. Really?
This is a lot to take in for one evening, and that means that the two-act show is long. It really needs some cutting and it can be done simply by having David realize that the Bensonhurst he grew up in does not represent all of Brooklyn. There have always been some charming parts of Brooklyn and some of them are still very desirable and other ones have been revived. It would not be difficult for the Kaplans to recreate their restaurant there. And no doubt Gloria and Phoebe could do well with their green market in Brooklyn. Which leaves Carlos and Anna. They are wonderfully played by Nelson and Alabado. While their performances are two of the many assets to the show, the roles are superfluous because they are not part of the milieu that David wants so much to keep.
Editing shows can and are done successfully. Director Gordon Edelstein gets the prize for that for trimming half of "Mourning Becomes Elektra." David Hirson whittled La Bete from two acts to one, removed the opening, and changed the gender of the benefactor. Donald Margulies cut 20 minutes from the revival of Collected Stories. Ingmar Bergman rewrote A Doll's House without the servants and other small roles and called it Nora. None of the edited scripts took anything away from these stories.
Still, the show is worth seeing because the cast is phenomenal. Bogart, who was a late replacement, is impeccable as the mercurial chef. Barzee and Cearcy have amazing voices among a cast who are all excellent singers. Allan Washington nearly stole the show as Sergio's new business partner. Anne Horak nailed the role of Sergiio's gold digging girlfriend and new maître d'. Shire's music is lovely, as expected, but 25 songs is a lot. Michael Yeargan's set design is marvelous. And Claire Zoghb's design for the program and brochure combines elegance, hominess, and edginess.
One more thing. The title was originally Table. The current title was taken from a restaurant review by Alice Waters that was cited in the show that it was the most beautiful room in New York. I think Table suits it better because the restaurant espouses Waters's philosophy of eating good, simple food is a way of life and David's goal to create something beautiful with his restaurant.
The Most Beautiful Room In New York plays at the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven through May 28. Tickets are $34.50 to $89.50. For tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit longwharf.org.