In a season so bad that the Young Frankenstein and Little Mermaid stage versions ran over a year, it’s worth noting that this is the one show from that year that nobody liked, and that closed instantly. It’s basically the aggressively avant-garde approach employed by composers like Lachiusa applied to a more conventional structure…it’s pretty much the plot of a normal musical comedy, just with every enjoyable and happy aspect drained out of it.
Amazingly, the force behind this was Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book and played one of the leads. He’s honestly the last person I’d expect to jump on the ‘true art means making everyone hate your show’ bandwagon, but there you go. As I said before, the plot description sounds like a pretty conventional musical comedy…it’s based on an old Bette Davis movie, but it also bears a striking resemblance to the early John Kander show A Family Affair…but the treatment of the material is utterly bleak and joyless, with a cast full of unhappy characters and an absolute morgue of a score.
From the instantly forgettable opening “Partners” to the hushed, deathly finale “Coney Island”, this is one of the dreariest scores in recent memory. Even the attempts to lighten the mood are dreary—the charm tune “One White Dress”, for example, which is so subdued that it barely even exists. Or take “Immediate Family”, which is supposed to be one of those nasty (but very funny) domestic confrontation scenes. Well, they got the nasty and confrontational part down, but when even Harvey Fierstein can’t wring out any laughs or make your big comedy showcase anything but unpleasant and uncomfortable, you’re doing something wrong.
The more dramatic numbers are much more successful, but this is a double-edged sword, since the deeply depressing ballads “Married” and “Our Only Daughter” only serve to make the show even harder to take. Even the few fleeting moment of genuine rhapsody, like the big ballad, “Don’t Ever Stop Saying I Love You”, or the ecstatic fantasy sequence “Vision”, only seems more depressing in the midst of all this gloom.
Everything builds to a brutally abrasive eleven-o’clocker, “I Stayed”, which would have been a dramatic stunner in any other show but just comes off as unpleasant here. That’s the problem…with an overall texture this bitter and gloomy, even the moments that might have worked in another show end up just adding to the ugliness. This is just a horrible, mean, unpleasant show with absolutely no enjoyment value, and while it’s attracted a small following of devil’s advocates who praise its ‘honesty’, I completely understand why it was such a quick failure.