Five CourseLove, Book, Music and Lyrics by Gregg Coffin. Directed by Phil Rice.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Katie Clark, Shaun Rice, Nick Miller at the Cantina; photo provided
"I could really use some help from 8 to 11."
Matt needs some help on a dinner date with an unknown woman. Matt is a bow-tied, sweater-vested, pocket-protected nerd with a history of dating problems and this night is going to prove to be just one more love-disaster. The headwaiter at Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats (which has replaced a refined Sushi joint) sits him down with blonde, brutally frank Barbie and the fun begins. At least the fun on stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, NY where "Five Course Love" is beginning the company's annual series of musicals.
A cast of three plays fifteen characters in stories set in five different restaurants and, miracle of miracles, Matt gets the help he needs. Or does he? Matt is played by Nick Miller; Barbie is played by Katie Clark; Dean himself is played by Shaun Rice. The actors work their way through this nearly through-composed one hour and twenty-seven minute one-act musical and the time slips away as though the show had not yet really begun.
Not that there’s much that is memorable or striking here. The score doesn’t have a single hit song in it and the comedy is predictable and not as funny as it might appear to be on paper. Still, the show has something going for it and that is the vision of the director and the ability of this cast to take on so many disparate roles and make them pay off nicely.
The second love story takes place in La Trattoria Pericolo where Gino and Sofia have their trysts under the watchful eye of the waiter, Carlo, who also knows Sofia’s husband. Italian passion soars in this tale and mob killings wait in the wings.
At Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz Heimlich, the waiter, and Klaus his lover find themselves in thrall to Gretchen, the fetchin’ wretch who dominates their thoughts and their love lives.
Mexican horse-riding Rosalinda is adored by the waiter Ernesto and desired by the bandit Guillermo. She and her horse take a ride on the wild side and she makes horse noises to prove it.
Finally, at the Star-Lite Diner, Pops tries to aid Kitty in her quest for the John Travolta clone, Clutch, who can’t seem to see her for her best qualities. But never fear, there is a happy ending for lovers lurking somewhere. There always is in a musical (I always think that Chino will be able to make Maria happy in West Side Story).
Miller has the most amazing character face, at times curiously silly and at other times romantically handsome. He has a wonderful singing voice and can act his way through the miasma of mankind he portrays in this show. The overwhelmingly curious atmosphere the author has created for Miller’s "actor" to cut through includes rapid costume and attitude changes, shifts in physical movement and even romantic dancing of more than one type. Miller is a perfect choice for this role, it seems, as he completely differentiates Matt from Clutch from Guillermo and the others. His Klaus is a hilarious set of peculiar choices, enhanced by the delightfully silly costume provided by Alyssa Couturier, one of fifteen in this show.
Rice, the actor, cannot keep his waiters apart despite accents, costumes and even an angelic appearance. This has nothing to do with his talents for he displays some remarkable choices in his varied appearances. Here it is the writing that limits what he can bring to the roles. He, himself, is a delight in all of them.
Katie Clark takes on diverse feminine traits and makes each one of them special. Her evil Gretchen is the total opposite of sweet Kitty, much as her demonically devoted Barbie (where is her Ken?) is nothing like her Sofia, a woman whose fire burns so hot she can reflect it in her sling strap, rhinestone flecked shoes. Clark is remarkably varied in role after role, blonde in two, raven haired in one and brunette in two, each hair-choice coupled with an accent and inflection that mirrors her new pose, her new walk, her new everything. Tell me that five women actually played these roles and I might believe it, she is that good.
The functional set by Abe Phelps works to the advantage of this almost seamless show helping each sequence to flow from the one before it and into the next without pause. Rice even uses this device wisely in his transition into the Mexican restaurant tale. Angelina Doherty has done some fine scenic work, but someone should have performed a spell-check on the stage left-center panel.
Kevin Francis Finn leads his band expertly and Marjorie Scarff makes a necessary appearance (I think) on stage to aid a rude Guillermo who cannot tolerate anything less than perfection in his "Mack the Knife" appearance.
Phil Rice has done a fine job bringing this show, which ran for three months at the Minetta Lane Theater in Greenwich Village back in 2005, to the stage in New Lebanon. Not a very complicated or difficult piece, it’s rewards are in the working performances by the cast and crew. Rice has clearly pointed everyone in the right directions and directed the rightness into each segment. There is humor, more subtle than blatant, and romance, more limpid than vibrant and the whole evening moves along so smoothly under his guiding light that the time, as noted, slips by like a song.
Five Course Love may not fill you up, but you will come away mostly satisfied. Like Chinese Food (maybe in another ‘Five Course Love’ show) you will need something else in an hour or so, but at least you leave the building with a good and happy feeling.
Five Course Love plays through August 5 at the Theater Barn at 654 Route 20 in New Lebanon, New York. For information and tickets call 518-794-8989 or go on line at www.theaterbarn.com.