Lachiusa claimed this was his attempt to write a light-hearted musical comedy, but that statement seems more than a bit disingenuous. The subject matter is, admittedly, relatively light compared to his usual fare (which admittedly is not saying much), but the opening number, “Days”, although it may be about something as simple as giving up smoking, sounds exactly like the opening of The Wild Party, right down to the dissonant trumpet blasts. It’s funny, characterful and even catchy in a perverse sort of way, but it doesn’t really differ much from Lachiusa’s usual fare.
Granted, after that, we do get a score that, apart from a couple of individual numbers like the dementedly perky “It’s a Sign” or the explosively mocking “Poor Charlotte”, is relatively accessible by Lachiusa’s standards. The song are certainly not conventional musical-comedy show tunes, but they’re fairly euphonious and pretty in a jangly sort of way. Particularly lovely are “Flotsam”, sung in a hallucinatory dream sequence by Anne Frank (yes, that Anne Frank); the moving “Remember Me” for the heroine’s best friend after she’s diagnosed with cancer; and the gently comforting title song. Other notable items include the dynamically pounding “I Ran” for the heroine’s gay friend; the caustically sarcastic but nonetheless pretty accurate “Short Story”, in which the heroine’s ex-boyfriend brutally lays out her failings; and the show’s impressive emotional climax, “Simple Creature”.
And Lachiusa does handle the attempt at something resembling “Musical Comedy” better than his clearest predecessor, the late Elizabeth Swados. I’ve always rather preferred Swados to Lachiusa for a variety of reasons, but I will admit that Lachiusa seems capable of meeting the musical comedy template halfway without completely compromising his style, something that Swados’ attempts at the same thing (like the Doonesbury musical) couldn’t seem to achieve.
The story, a very modern plot about a woman confronting her psychological issues, could have played as a semi-conventional musical comedy with a different treatment, but it doesn’t come across that way here, instead amounting to a kind of self-consciously contemplative contemporary drama. Really, I blame the show’s failure less on Lachiusa’s alienating style and more on the book’s pretentious tone and lack of an actual plot beyond this not-very-likable woman trying to figure out why she can’t connect.
It’s been compared to Sondheim’s Company by a lot of people, including its creators, but the central conflict of Company (the question of whether making a commitment to share your life with another person is worth it) is both much more clearly defined and far more compelling than the vague introspection on display here. Even Alice Ripley, who sings the lead role on the cast album, can’t really do much to make you like or care about this self-involved neurotic whose problems are all of her own making.
This isn’t Lachiusa’s weakest show by any means…the music alone does enough to carry it to put it well above misfires like Queen of the Mist, let alone the utter horror that is Bernarda Alba…but it doesn’t really have the arresting if alienating impact of his best work. It’s not nearly as hard to force yourself to appreciate as Marie Christine or The Wild Party, but it also doesn’t even approach the sheer emotional devastation those shows can achieve. It’s interesting, like all of his work…even Bernarda Alba was interesting in its awfulness…but it stands somewhere toward the middle range of Lachiusa’s output, and while the score is worth hearing, I can’t say I really recommend seeing the show.
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