BWW Review: WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE? Mines Humor, Heartbreak at St. Vincent
There's a certain cottage industry of playwrights who get just one thing right and can comfortably spend the rest of their lives giving audiences exactly what they want, again and again. I'm not disparaging that- to say that it's lazy or reductive would be to condemn Neil Simon along with Ken Ludwig, Andrew Lloyd Webber along with Dan Goggin (he's the Nunsense guy, try to keep up). One of the lesser-known members of this crew of hyper-competent, crowd-pleasant jobbers is Roger Bean, the master of the female-centric low-key jukebox hangout musical. Like the aforementioned Ken Ludwig and Neil Simon, Bean's playlets with music have become a staple of the St. Vincent Summer Theatre, one of the most welcome and comfortable traditions of Western Pennsylvania professional theatre. Anything put on at St. Vincent is guaranteed theatrical comfort food, complete with a cabaret cast party afterwards that makes you feel just like one of the insiders.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love? is basically Bean's The Marvelous Wonderettes, but grown up. Four girlfriends in the mid-1960s gather for a bachelorette party. They eat snacks, sing classic 1960s girl-group songs, and come to terms with the fact that none of their relationships are as picture-perfect as the pop songs of their era. Flash forward six months at intermission, things have gotten pricklier for all, but girl power and the Brill Building Sound prevail. If you've ever watched any female-ensemble sitcom, you've basically already taken an advanced course in what's going on here.
But plot is ultimately not the point here. This isn't a plot piece, it's a hangout show. We are guests at the party, so to speak, and these four women provide charisma and character enough to hang the infectious songs that power the plot. The archetypes are traditional, if not a little reductive at times: perfect All-American housewife-to-be Millie (Sarah Hoch), naive goody-goody Dee Dee (Greta Kleckner), bad-boy-coveting nerd Flo (Abby Hart), and jaded Sally (Brittany Silver), who is repeatedly identified as "trampy." In an authentic but ironic touch, Sally, who wears iconic Sixties fashion, dates openly and isn't looking for immediate marriage, is viewed as the slut of the group, while she is the one who appears to most exemplify the "modern woman" to come, post-Sexual Revolution.
Sarah Hoch's Millie is technically the lead in terms of the plot, as the housewife whose husband (shades of Don Draper) works long hours and has a roving eye. With the most traditional musical theatre voice, everything about Hoch screams leading lady, and she sells her songs with both heartfelt romance and genuine anger and heartbreak when the pieces fall apart. In the show's one unexpected choice, Hoch's eleven o'clock number is the Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach song "God Give Me Strength," a contemporary homage to Bacharach's sixties collaborations with HAl Davis. It's a hard song, a jazz and gospel inflected pop equivalent of an art song, and Hoch does more than handle it, she sells it. She also looks the most immediately era-appropriate, recalling Mad Men's Megan "Zou Bisou Bisou" Draper at her most paisley elegant.
As Sally, Brittany Silver has to both convincingly play bitchy devil's advocate and the voice of reason: she may seem harsh and callous to her friends, but Sally IS the lady of the future. Her soulful voice sells many of the more R&B inflected tunes, though it's the moments of drama, more than the comedy, where Silver truly shines. It's what they call the Seinfeld effect- if Sally doesn't make a huge impression as an iconoclast, it's because fifty years removed, she seems the norm, not a rebel.
Speaking of rebels, Abby Hart is an ensemble standout as Flo. Awkward, shy and a little nerdy, but with an unexpected taste for delinquents and lawbreakers, Hart opens up slowly as the repressed and slightly weird member of the group. It takes a strong character actor to sell a heartfelt plea for love like "Hey There, Lonely Boy" while singing to a stack of Polaroids of the guy she's pining for-slash-stalking, but Hart's sweet voice and flexible comedic talent cannot be suppressed, especially once Flo has a few drinks in her. At intermission I checked my program, and just as I had imagined, Hart is a veteran Penny Pingleton from Hairspray. Some shows just cast themselves, it seems, and hopefully newcomer Hart will become a summer season staple in years to come.
The show's comic heart, however, is Greta Kleckner. With a bubbly presence and comic timing resembling classic SNL comediennes like Gilda Radner and Aidy Bryant, Kleckner's Dee Dee is a giggling, hyperventilating hot mess, complete with catchphrases and physical comedy. Dee Dee is the broadest role, written just this side of insufferable, and it's a testament to Kleckner's comic abilities that Dee Dee never becomes annoying and remains amusing throughout.
Perhaps each performers is skilled on their own, but when the four of them unite into a tight harmony group, as directed by Gregg Brandt and choreographed by Renata Marino, they become one. The choreography is period specific and character appropriate, looking suitably precise while also feeling like four drunk ladies dancing to a Ronettes album. Attention must be paid to Wendy Feaver, the pianist and music director who fine-tuned those precise harmonies.
Will Why Do Fools Fall in Love? make you think? Only a little. Will it make you feel? Still just a bit. But will you have fun? Will you laugh? Will you enjoy your evening out and feel like you're part of the party? Absolutely. And not every show needs to be August, Osage County to get the job done. With friends like these, who needs drama?