Did you think the movie "The Goodbye Girl" was all that funny? Were you dying to see it made into a musical?
Even if your answer to both questions is "yes," it's unlikely that you'd be satisfied by the musical version, because, despite the array of talent that created and appears in it, it never achieves the modest, warm charm of the original.
In fact, the problem may simply be that everybody is trying too hard.
"The Goodbye Girl," for which Neil Simon wrote the screenplay and the musical book, has a somewhat strained premise. An actor who has just landed a job in Hollywood dumps his fiancee and her small daughter in the New York apartment they shared. Worse, he sublets the apartment to another actor.
Immediately this strains credulity. Yes, I know actors are reprehensibly careerists, but would they rent an apartment to anyone as undependable as another actor?
Needless to say, the dump-ee, who happens to be a dancer, and the sublessee take an instant dislike to each other, but agree, for financial reasons, to share the turf. To no one's surprise, they grow increasingly fond of each other.
In the film, there was chemistry between Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss, but in a film a quiet glance can sometimes achieve more than the cleverest dialogue. In the musical, the cleverness is relentless and tiresome.
The high point of the film was a sequence in which Dreyfuss played Richard III as gay. (Mason had appeared in such a production a few years earlier.) Nowadays this would not be "correct," so the "concept" is that the hapless actor must play Richard III as a man playing a woman playing a man.
Given the fatuousness of contemporary Shakespeare productions, this is not impossible, but it too seems strained. (Curiously, the homophobia squelched in Act I turns up in Act II in a feeble spoof of a highstrung TV exercise maven.)
As this episodic plot unfolds, there are plenty of opportunities for Simon one-liners. (The actress has an especially funny moment when she announces she's going to audition for "one of the two musicals this season that isn't a revival.")
The lighthearted mood also gives lyricist David Zippel plenty of room for clever rhymes (like "antidepressant" with "postadolescent"). But all through the show you long for a quiet scene were someone experiences a simple human emotion. It never happens.
This is particularly hard on Bernadette Peters, as the title character. She has to carry singlehandedly the emotional weight of the show, and there is none. When she's alone with her lover on the roof of their West Side brownstone, instead of singing a love song, they compete at rhyming. As she confides in her daughter, around them whirls a ballet on roller-blades. Nor has Marvin Hamlisch given her solos any emotional surge.
Lucky Martin Short! He gets all the best Simon material and the bounciest of Hamlisch and Zippel's songs. From his first entrance intoning "New York! Well, maybe someday they'll fix it," until the final scene, he cavorts about the stage with a leprechaun's energy and grace. He is a savvy singer, a flawless comic and even generates genuine sympathy playing, as he puts it, "Richard III like Elizabeth II."
Graciela Daniele's choreography has an angular jocularity, and she has given Scott Wise (as a dance instructor) some great steps. There is good work by Carol Wood (the landlady) and Tammy Minoff (the daughter), but the overall feeling of the show is mechanical. By 10:40, you can't wait to say goodbye to "The Goodbye Girl."
Glad tidings - at the Marquis Theater last night stage-unknown video star Martin Short made one of those legendary Broadway musical debuts only to be compared in recent memory with Robert Lindsay in "Me and My Girl" and Jim Dale in "Barnum."
The man deserves to be the toast of the town, and his already beloved co-star Bernadette Peters ain't chopped liver either.
But - always the but that butts - how can I put this fairly but squarely? I don't want to be kind only to be cruel, but I am attempting to be balanced about a vastly unbalanced enterprise. Oh well, enough of throat-clearing - here goes!
Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl," which provides these glitter-dust stars with their starring vehicle, is a more than decent adaptation of the more than decent movie of the same name, unfortunately interrupted by music.
This is made all the more unfortunate because it is supposed to be a musical, and in this manisfestation "The Goodbye Girl" is not exactly by Neil Simon. Others have collaborated - to a greater and occasionally lesser extent.
The first number of Marvin Hamlisch's rumpty-tumpty-empty score is called - oh someone's prophetic soul - "This Is as Good as It Gets." And it was.
And it wasn't good enough. Although many of the tunes are reprised during the show, few I suspect will be reprised after. Oddly enough, the lyrics by David Zippel (the lyricist for "City of Angels") are as sharp as a tack, and perfectly catch Simon's own bitterly acerbic and show-biz-toned and -tuned humor.
Of course, even apart from the dismal music, the show has problems. It lacks intimacy - the original screenplay was a trio with a few orchestral riffs. Even unencumbered by Hamlisch, it would have been virtually impossible to have opened it out on the symphonic scale required of this kind of splashy musical.
As a result - despite the earnest staging of Michael Kidd, not to mention the vestigial contributions made by his now unnamed predecessor, Gene Saks, before him - the show inevitably lacks both focus and drive.
For instance, the dances - conventional stuff by Graciele Daniele - are dragged in to no real purpose, and the wit (there are some wondeful lines here, and real characters) of Simon's book is only diffused by the spectacle.
Not that even the spectacle is that spectacular. Santo Loquasto is one of the best designers on Broadway, but here his sets and costumes (a veritable riot of clever ugliness) only serve to point up the difficulty of providing a visual sense of time, place, atmosphere and attitude to a theatrical property expanded beyond its nature.
For all this (and worse shows than this have still succeeded, mes enfants - think of...well, why be unnecessarily mean?), the cast stands tall, and no one stands taller than Short.
And, not altogether incidentally, for this cast standing on their ramshackle structure, credit in passing must still be given for the brilliantly kind words of Simon and Zippel, and the support in grievously difficult circumstances offered by Kidd and (presumably) Saks.
Short, of course, is "The Hello Boy." During the course of the play (sorry, musical), which is oddly full of such dangerous killer lines as "I hope the second act is going to be better than the first," Short's character is continually referred to as "charismatic."
To be honest, I have never thought much or often of Short before - but, boy, was I wrong. He is a stage star of major proportions - and anyone interested in the Broadway musical must see him, whatever you may ultimately think of the show. He would transcend "Abie's Irish Rose" - but don't revive it for him.
Peters is miscast - tougher and wryer would have been better - and mis-costumed, but she somehow pulls it off, and is never quite extinguished by her co-star's doubtless daunting effulgence.
And there are other good things here - particularly Tammy Minoff's none-too-overly-cute daughter in search of paternity, John Christopher Jones' outrageously funny Hungarian Shakespearean, and Carol Woods' nicely routined comfort lady.
So don't go particularly for the musical (or was it a play?), but I think you'll really enjoy the performances. It may just be that you can make a cute nylon purse out of a sow's ear. Who can tell?
Even if you don't share my conviction that Bernadette Peters and Martin Short are among the most winning of performers, you still might admire how they play the losing hand they've been dealt in "The Goodbye Girl."
In their heroic and tireless effort to put over the dull musical at the Marquis, these stars would serve the audience dinner and fill out its 1040 forms if given the chance. Ms. Peters goes so far as to dress up as a plate of french fries with ketchup on top - don't ask why because no explanation is forthcoming - and Mr. Short hobbles about in golden Mary Pickford curls and matching lame tights for an Act I finale that requires him to play Richard III in drag. Both stars cheerfully contend with agressive child actors and garish band arrangements that could drown out Ethel Merman, not to mention a nausea-inducing turntable that is the centerpiece of the most hideously designed big-budget musical in years.
In the first two scenes alone, Ms. Peters must sell a forced comic duet with the girl who is cast as her 12-year-old daughter (Tammy Minoff, who is tall enough to be her sister) and then reverse moods to belt out an angry, tearful dirge titled "No More" (as in "No more chasing after dreams") that seems to end the show before it has begun. As if this weren't workout enough, she is immediately thrust into a strenuous dance number in which the composer of "The Goodbye Girl," Marvin Hamlisch, pays self-defeating homage to his own "Chorus Line." Not until some minutes later does Ms. Peters finally have her first scene with the charming Mr. Short, a sharp comedian who must spend too much of the hours to come tossing the long locks and flashing the toothy grin of a candied musical-comedy juvenile.
The show that put these gifted entertainers in such a jam is Neil Simon's own faithful adaptation of his 1977 movie about Paula, a Broadway dancer and single mom, who finds herself involuntarily sharing her brownstone apartment with Elliot, an arrogant actor from Chicago. It's hate at first sight for this odd couple, but one need only flip through the Playbill and read the title of Paula's last song, "What a Guy," to find out where "The Goodbye Girl" is headed. The predictability of the final clinch wouldn't matter if the route leading there were fun. But Mr. Simon's script is only witty when charting the characters' mishaps in show business, notably Mr. Short's calamitous opening night in Off Off Broadway Shakespeare. How good can a musical be when sneering drama critics get the best lines?
If show business is Mr. Simon's strength, the evening's main romantic events play to his most glaring weakness: women. The heroine of "The Goodbye Girl," like most of the chracters in "Jake's Women" last season, does not seem drawn from life but pieced together from bits of afternoon talk shows and self-help manuals of a less-than-recent vintage. Mr. Simon has long made a specialty of writing musicals about New York women who are repeatedly, as he puts it, "dumped on" by men, but he does not seem to know that the doormat heroine he created in "Sweet Charity" and "Promises, Promises" more than 20 years ago comes across as a sentimentalized and at times patronizing stereotype today.
The efforts to dress up Paula in supposedly with-it fashions of feminism, mainly by having her speak in psychobabble and giving her lofty career ambitions (as a public-television choreographer, of all things) are bizarrely out of touch. It is hard to imagine that many 35-year-old women in the audience, should there be any, would recognize the 35-year-old Paula as a contemporary. Indeed, much of "The Goodbye Girl" seems to be taking wild guesses as to what is going on in the real world where its audience lives. Fearful of being politically incorrect, Mr. Simon has pointlessly changed the hilarious gay director of "Richard III" in the film to a Hungarian in the musical. The evening's other big satirical target is, anachronistically enough, a Richard Simmons aerobics show.
More puzzling than the geriatric sensibility in "The Goodbye Girl," however, are the lapses of craft and professionalism from the show's illustrious creative team. This long evening is full of extraneous numbers begging to be cut, and Mr. Simon, usually a master of comic construction, allows the show to go on for four windy scenes' worth of tedious complications after Elliot and Paula have finally got together.
Mr. Hamlisch's score seems anonymous, but the orchestrations, by Torrie Zito and the usually reliable Billy Byers, are so shrill and brassy that the music may actually be less bland than it sounds. The squirm-inducing lyrics, by the promising David Zippel of "City of Angels," often betray both the characters and common sense. In the very first song, a child too unsophisticated to recognize the initials U.C.L.A. in one line sings of "Narcissus" a few lines later. Ms. Peters is mired all evening in her male lyricist's embarrassing idea of feminist jargon, whether she is "making efforts to assert myself" or "discovering ways to hurt myself."
Michael Kidd, who did much to define slam-bang Broadway and Hololywood musical-comedy style in the 1950's, directs "The Goodbye Girl" in a mechanical reduction of that style: everything is fast, furious, loud and downstage center. Not that any director could overcome this musical's physical production. Though a fine realistic designer of costumes and dark period sets for both Mr. Simon's memory plays and Woody Allen's movies, Santo Loquasto has gone haywire trying for whimsy here. He puts the lovely Ms. Peters in one unflattering outfit after another and unaccountably dresses the chorus like gaudy golf caddies for a climactic Act II dace routine. The glum Manhattan skyline dominating the set is pockmarked by what look like giant gumdrops in colors no one wants to eat.
In this show, only the cast consistently tries to uphold the old Broadway standards. The rousing singer Carol Woods, playing a broom-toting black landlady seemingly inspired by the antediluvian sitcom "Beulah," turns even a trivial song about the necessity of a child doing homework into a pop gospel aria out of "Dreamgirls." The great dancer Scott Wise is brought on to reread the flips he did in "Guys and Dolls." Two other superb character dancers, Cynthia Onrubia and Susann Fletcher, are completely wasted, as is that excellent actor John Christopher Jones, who is miscast in two clownish roles.
Ms. Peters and Mr. Short never stop knocking themselves out for our benefit, wringing every joke and song for any drop of juice they can find. In the one scene when they are not bickering, a loose-limbed, moonlit rooftop duet choreographed by Graciela Daniele in Act II, "The Goodbye Girl" actually warms up for a few moments to evoke those old-fashioned musicals in which unlikely young lovers found each other just in time in a twinkling fairy-tale New York. It's all too typical of this hapless show that just as the couple's joy threatens to spread through the audience, the scene is abruptly called on account of rain.
Here is the latest movie-based Broadway musical and the latest failure, though by virtue of its pedigree, stars and strong advance sale in a dry season, one that will probably take longer than its most recent predecessors to disappear. "The Goodbye Girl" will linger and cause more customers to lament the death of musical comedy or wonder how things could have gone so wrong.
The first thing that sets "The Goodbye Girl" apart from "My Favorite Year" and "Nick & Nora" is that the new show is the brainchild of the movie's author, Neil Simon. It's based on his 1977 comedy about a single mother disillusioned in love who is nevertheless wooed by the determined actor who moves in with her.
Simon's affectionate rendering of the New York actors' life had a certain warmth, and the edge that Richard Dreyfuss brought to a mushy role complemented the mush Marsha Mason brought to an edgy role.
Nearly all of that is lost in the musical, for which Simon has written an unfocused, unfunny book, David Zippel bland lyrics and Marvin Hamlisch a forgettable score.
The opening number, "This is as Good as it Gets" sets an essentially hostile tone, as Paula (Bernadette Peters) and daughter Lucy (Tammy Minoff) sing about the anticipated joys of moving to L.A., only to discover that the latest boyfriend has dumped them.
Instead of evoking sympathy for the pair, the song and Michael Kidd's staging of it present two calculating females who've bagged their prey; their fate seems more comeuppance than abandonment.
This is followed by an 11 o'clock number that comes, unwisely, at 8:20, an anthem in which Paula swears she won't be used by men ever again. Again, unimaginative staging fails Peters, but so do Billy Byers' and Torrie Zitos' grating orchestrations, which fight the singers at every point and obliterate whatever musicality Hamlisch's tunes may harbor.
Enter Elliot (Martin Short), the Chicago actor to whom the departed boyfriend has sublet the apartment.
Elliot is naive enough to characterize his landing the title role in an Off Off Broadway production of "Richard III" as his big break, though it's hard to imagine that even in 1977 Off Off was casting in Chicago (harder, still, to believe that every New York TV station and CNN would cover the event).
If charm prevailed, such lapses might be forgivable, but what "Girl" lacks above all is charm.
Peters throws herself into a role she has essayed before (in Andrew Lloyd Webber's equally unattractive "Song & Dance"), but either she lacks the heart for it or she's just wrong; either way, she never comes across as sympathetic.
The show comes to life briefly with Short's entrance, but he, too, seems ultimately defeated by the flatness of this musical terrain, resorting to familiar shtick.
In the film, Elliot is forced by a ponderous middle-European director to play Richard as a preening homosexual, and the musical originally followed suit. Deferring to '90s sensitivities, Simon changed the director's (John Christopher Jones) conception, and now Elliot plays him as half man, half woman -- though for some reason references to Richard as Tinkerbell and the like remain, so it comes off as idiotic.
That's another miscalculation, because the scene is the play's fulcrum, after which the tone must shift from acerbic comedy to comic romance.
With one choreographer, Michael Kidd, brought in as director and another -- the talented Graciela Daniele -- credited with musical staging, it's hard to tell who did what, though Kidd's trademark muscularity is much in evidence in the chorus numbers. But it's energy without elegance, sex or imagination.
Santo Loquasto's kitsch settings are so ugly that the simple Central Park lake scene in which Elliot wins Lucy's heart seems positively lovely by comparison.
"The Goodbye Girl" seemed a natural candidate for transition from movie to musical. But despite the efforts of a first-string team, neither freewheeling comedy nor giddy romance emanates from the stage. The musical never sings.