ON THE RECORD: Chaplin, Leap of Faith and Now. Here. This.

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06 Jan 2013

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The last of the trio at hand is another short-lived musical of last spring, this one from off-Broadway. [title of show] was a trifle by Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, in which the authors wrote about trying to write a musical to submit to the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival. They wrote it, in whimsically meandering style; submitted it; and found their piece a hit of the Festival. The show — a four-character musical, featuring the authors along with Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff — was then taken up by the Vineyard, which produced it in 2006 with such great success that they were impelled to bring it back for a return engagement.

[title of show] was a real charmer down at the 125-seat Vineyard. Things went awry, alas, when an intensive Internet campaign helped propel Hunter & Jeff & the girls up to the Lyceum. All that seemed offbeat and lighter-than-air on 15th Street turned leaden in the distinguished house of Frohman. (Daniel Frohman, who built the place in 1903. But that is rather beside the point.) The figurative souffle deflated in the uptown air. Thud it went, despite a veritable valentine from the Times and pleas from the show's overdedicated fans.

With all those fans bloodied but unbowed — and waiting, impatiently, for more — Bowen & Bell returned to the Vineyard last spring with a companion piece, Now. Here. This. [Ghostlight]. The title itself indicates just what this turned out to be: an evening's worth of special material with italics around it, with the quartet of friends spouting overly-intellectualized personal tales and pronouncements. Some of the [title of show] fans saw this as a bonanza personally conceived for their high enjoyment. Many others, though, thought — enough!

The material sounds a bit better on the CD; for starters, it is 40-minutes shorter than the 100-minutes at the Vineyard. The annoyance factor is also reduced by the absence of all those projections of the cosmos. As with the former, Bowen remains a charming and friendly presence. Blackwell turned out to be the most impressive performer of the group, perhaps because she had the strongest material. (This time around, she was credited as co-author.)

From watching the two shows and listening to the two CDs, my hunch is that composer/lyricist Bowen has all the tools to entertain us. His music, here, is restrained by the need to add "colorful" and deprecating lyrics along the way; it is almost as if whenever his music starts to grow emotional, he slips in a joke to tell us that he is only kidding. This is in keeping with the style of the two musicals in question, yes; but I wonder what he would come up with if he was writing for characters who want to sing, and don't care about being funny.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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