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Glimpses of the Moon: And All That Jazz

Setting a musical about New York's elite in one of New York's most elite cabaret venues is deliciously meta... Perhaps too meta for its own good. Re-opening at the Algonquin Hotel's legendary Oak Room after its warmly received premier earlier this year, Glimpses of the Moon is, as Duncan Pflaster wrote in his January review of the show, a valentine to the jazz age. Based on an Edith Wharton novella, the musical, with book and lyrics by Tajlei Levis and music by John Mercurio, recreates those pre-Depression days when New York's royalty flitted, flirted and partied carelessly, and they all knew it could never end.

The romance in the comedy is between Susy and Nick, two penniless hangers-on to the cafe society. Marrying for the gifts they'll receive from wealthy friends, the two genuinely begin to fall in love, but when Nick learns that their upper-crust lifestyle depends on deception, they quarrel and split. 

It's not exactly deep, but it doesn't have to be. Wharton was famous for her ironic wit, and this show is bubbling with both. There's no great drama in wondering whether or not Susy and Nick will work out their differences--it is, after all, a musical comedy. The joy is watching the game cast revel in the old-fashioned jazz and champagne-dry humor. Levis and Mercurio's score is smart and charming, nicely conjuring the jazz age. There is one contemporary number, sung by a different cabaret guest star at each performance in a scene that takes place in--you guessed it--the Oak Room. Told you the show was meta.

As the romantic leads, Autumn Hurlbert and Chris Peluso are... well, romantic leads. They sing beautifully and share a gentle chemistry that never lets the drama get too deep, but keeps the romance and comedy front-and-center. Glenn Peters, one of New York's most underrated character actors, is appropriately stuffy and sweet as the aristocratic Streffy--and how wonderful to have a romantic rival who's a genuinely nice person rather than a cad or a bore. Laura Jordan's Coral is a femme fatale of the rarest sort: a pedantic grad student clad in beige whose transformation into a red-hot flapper is one of the comic highlights of the evening. Most of the rest go to Jane Blass as a philandering society maven, and much of the evening's poignancy comes from Daren Kelly as her heartbroken husband.

Marc Bruni's direction is hampered by the layout of the Oak Room. By staging the action among the tables of the cabaret venue, Bruni brings us into the characters' world, but forces blocking so awkward as to be distracting. (Not to mention dangerous: Lisa Zinni's period costumes are gorgeous, and every time an actor got close to a table with a glass of red wine, the room seemed to hold its collective breath.) Denis Jones' choreography also works well in the limited space, and evokes the time period quite well.

If cabaret isn't your thing, and you still want to brag that you've seen a show at the Oak Room, Glimpses of the Moon could be the way to go. It's as light as a puff pastry, and just about as sweet.

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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)