When you look at Broadway today, it seems we are in an era of taking any movie and attempting to put it on the stage. Pretty Women, Tootsie, and Beetlejuice are just recent examples of a trend that has been going on since at least the 1950s. One such attempt occurred in 1993, when there was an attempt to bring the 1977 Neil Simon comedy The Goodbye Girl to the stage. The resulting musical: The Goodbye GIrl, featured an updated book by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by David Zippel, and starred Bernadette Peters and Martin Short. You would think that with this pedigree the musical would easily succeed. It didn’t — it only ran for 23 previews and 188 performances — proving that even with pedigrees, it can still be a dog.
But is it really a dog. That’s the question that the Musical Theatre Guild (FB) asks. They present shows with only 25 hours of rehearsal, minimal staging and scenery, in a staged reading format that allows reexamination. The second outing of their season was The Goodbye Girl, which we saw last night.
In the program, the supposition is made that the reason for the failure was the theatre: The Marquis Theatre. At the time of the show, there had been a string of failures there, and Broadway is a superstitious bunch. But subsequent to the show, there have been a few hits at the theatre. So was that the reason.
Before I give you my thoughts on the show, perhaps I should tell you what it was about. After all, 1977 was a long time ago — I was just graduating high school. The musical retained much of the original movie’s plot, making only a few changes. It is difficult to find a synopsis online that isn’t a scene by scene breakdown (such as the one in the Guide to Musical Theatre), so I’ll give it a try:
Paula and her daughter Lucy are looking forward to moving to California to be with her actor-boyfriend Tony. But they discover Tony has left them for a movie role in Spain; further, he has sublet their apartment without their knowledge to an actor friend from Chicago. Paula doesn’t want to share the apartment, but Elliott (the Chicago actor) points out that he owns the lease, so they work out a tenuous arrangement. He has a role in a version of Richard III where the director wants him to play it as a man playing a women playing a man (this was originally a homosexual queen portrayal in the movie). Unsurprisingly, that approach fails. As Elliott recovers from the drunken opening night pain, he sees the tender side of Paula, and no surprisingly, a spark is ignited. Insert the predictable march to the happy ending.
My reaction to the show was hard to characterize. On story and music alone, it was a pleasant evening — but it also wasn’t a spectacular “wow” along the lines of Come From Away or Hamilton. It struck me much more as a Pretty Women or the current show at the Marquis, Tootsie. In other words: yes, it was a fun show to watch, but it also didn’t seem to have the staying power that the powerhouse shows have. This should not be construed as saying it was bad. It was a very very funny show, with some really good performances. It just didn’t have that staying power. Similar to the Donna Summer musical I saw Saturday night, it was a piece of fluff that was tasty while you were eating it, but it left you craving something much more substantial.
So why did The Goodbye Girl fail so spectacularly in its first outing. After all, movie to musical properties often have a reasonable life, even if they aren’t long running hits. I think there are a number of reasons:
- I’m not sure this was a movie that cried out to be musicalized. Were there emotions or arcs of the characters that could only be told by song? I’m not sure. Without that crying need for music, you end up with something that might be entertaining, but isn’t spectacular. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be profitable, but that profit will not be achieved on Broadway, but in long term licensing and performance.
- I think the original casting was off. Martin Short was fine, but I think this wasn’t the right role for Bernadette Peters. This show came between Into the Woods and the Annie Get Your Gun revival. Trying to have Peters be believable as an unemployed, out of shape dancer just didn’t work.
- Although David Zippel’s lyrics were strong, I’m not sure this was Marvin Hamlisch’s best score. Hamlisch had a problem finding scores for the theatre that had long term lasting power after A Chorus Line. None of the songs here had a long term lasting power, although “Elliott Garfield Grant” was an earworm.
- The transition from the movie to the stage didn’t use the opportunity to fix the problems in the original screenplay. When you read reviews of the movie, Paula was often viewed as unsympathetic in the first half of the movie — someone you don’t particularly like. Audiences didn’t warm up to her until the latter part of the movie. Read reviews of the stage musical, and guess what — same thing. If you can’t get invested in the characters early, it is hard to get the audiences to care about the show.
But this is MTG — and one of the goals of MTG is to give a chance to see properties such as The Goodbye Girl for just this reason. It allows one to see if the underlying good in the material, and to determine what possibly went wrong the first time out. Luckily, the execution of this production was significantly better than Barnum a few months ago. About the only production problems were one or two instances of feedback, and a few cases where the sound team was behind the actors, and the microphones weren’t enabled when they should be. As directed by Linda Kerns (FB), and with choreography by Michelle Elkin (⭐FB, FB), the production moved briskly and without problems, and the actors did a great job of inhabiting the characters. This was particularly remarkable when you consider the short time they were living with these characters — remember, just 25 hours of rehearsal.
In the lead positions were Wendy Rosoff (⭐FB, FB) Paula and Will Collyer (⭐FB, FB) Elliot. Rosoff captured the neurotic nature of Paula well and had a great chemistry with Collyer’s Elliot. Her songs came off as a little more shrill than perhaps were intended, but I think that’s something that would have been adjusted in a longer run. Collyer was great as Elliot — he had a warmth and charm that made one see how Martin Short could have been so strong in the role.
Also in a lead position was Maya Somers Lucy. This young lady just blew me away with her talent and voice. As she grows as an actress, I look forward to seeing her on the stages of Los Angeles.
Supporting the leads in named roles were Jenelle Lynn Randall (⭐FB) Mrs. Crosby, and as Lucy’s friends, Bella Stine (⭐FB) Cynthia and Olivia Zenetzis Melanie. All were very strong. Randall brought some wonderfully sardonic humor and moves to Mrs. Crosby, and nailed her “2 Good 2 Be Bad Number”, and Stine and Zenetzis made a delightful trio with Somers.
Rounding out the cast were: Jennifer Knox (FB) Donna / Ensemble; Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) Jenna / Ensemble; Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) Billy / Ensemble; Anthony Gruppuso (⭐FB, FB) Mark / Ricky / Ensemble; Tal Fox (FB) Ensemble; Gabriel Navarro (FB) Ensemble; and Mark C. Reis (⭐FB) Ensemble.
As this was a minimally staged concert performance, there was no real scenic, lighting, or sound design. A Jeffrey Schoenberg (FB) provided the costumes, and Todd Gajdusek was Production Coordinator. Stage managers were Leesa Freed (FB) Production Stage Manager / Production Coordinator, Stacey Cortez Asst Stage Manager; and Debra Miller Asst Stage Manager.
This was the only performance of The Goodbye Girl.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
December is getting busy, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The weekend after ACSAC brings an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB). I also have a hold for December 21 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild.
Looking to early 2020: most of the January is currently quiet, but the middle of the month is busy, with What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, and Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the third weekend, and Cirque Éloize at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the last weekend. Things start heating up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend; A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB) the third weekend; and (whew!) The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. March comes in like a lamb, with the first two weekends (2/29 and 3/7) being quiet… but goes out like a Lion. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner; the 3rd Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last bringing Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!