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A CurtainUp Review
Stars in Your Eyes
by Les GutmanInnocuous.
That's the best one word description of this new "musical romance," the greatest achievement of which is the septet of talented, in some cases very talented, musical theater performers it has corralled. You're likely to be amused and entertained, but unlikely to be stimulated, intrigued, enthralled or, on the other hand, bored.
Stars in Your Eyes is set in 1962 in the small towns of Milford and Bloomfield. Milford is "across the tracks" from Bloomfield. The big issue in Milford this year is that the city council is proposing to tear down the observatory. Reginald Barclay (David M. Lutken), a science teacher at the local high school, and his star pupil, Jo Jensen (Christy Carlson Romano), are spearheading the opposition, and enlist the aid of the school principal, Charles Swanson (John Braden), a lonesome widower. The big issue in Bloomfield this year (as every other year) is keeping the Milfordites on the other side of the tracks. Also entering the equation is the Man in the Moon (James Stovall). Suffice it to say that he is to Stars in Your Eyes as Puck is to A Midsummer Night's Dream. Sort of.
Barclay is an oddball. Instead of spending his life making and spending money like his classmates at the prestigious all-boys Bloomfield Academy, he has devoted his life to scholarly pursuits. In an unusual twist, he has recently become engaged to Leigh Hunt-Smith (Crista Moore), scion of the Bloomfield Hunt-Smith's, whose daddy runs the Bloomfield Academy. His soon-to-be prominence gets Jo accepted as the first girl student at the Academy. He's convinced it will be good for her but runs into unexpectedly harsh opposition from the woman who has assumed responsibility for Jo since her mother died, Annie Patterson (Barbara Walsh).
To make Reginald presentable for the upcoming wedding, Leigh sends him to dance classes at the Milford Dance Studio. It's run by Helen (Heather Mac Rae), a lonely heart with fetishes for Fred and Ginger and ice cream. She assigns the new student to her assistant, who just happens to be Annie.
By the 4th of July, Annie and Reginald have declared a truce and become chummy. For her part, Leigh just happens to run into a fellow Bloomfield snob, Taylor St. Joseph (also portrayed by Stovall who plays a variety of other, smaller roles, sometimes, it would seem, for casting economies, but other times, one might suggest, for casting spells). They seem very happy to see each other. And I think I see Helen and Charles eyeing each other, too.
Anyone who needs help figuring out the rest of the plot is hopeless.
Chip Meyrelles, who moved to New York two years ago to write musicals, has certainly done so. His music is pleasant enough, spanning the traditional range of musical theater styles, and his lyrics are serviceable if not inspired. There's nothing groundbreaking here but, to be fair, that's obviously not his aim.
Is there a market for a pleasant evening of theatrical diversion? Time will tell. If so, the strong casting of this production should get a lot of the credit. Stars brings some Broadway starpower to a more intimate off-Broadway space, and that is not without some appeal. The worst seat in the Cherry Lane Theatre is about the same distance from the stage as a prime orchestra seat for a big Broadway musical.
Of the men, David Lutken is the most interesting, bringing to mind a young Jimmy Stewart. (The entire show could be so described as well.) But only James Stovall's powerful, expressive voice -- he spent time on Broadway as Coalhouse in Ragtime -- is worth writing home about. In every other respect, however, his Man in the Moon is as annoying as the similarly intrusive Paul Scott Goodman character in last season's Bright Lights Big City -- probably the only similarity. (Review linked below.)
All three of the "older" women are much-admired Broadway and cabaret performers, but the one who grabs our attention in Stars is Barbara Walsh, who both sings and performs beautifully. Crista Moore is also enjoyable but her one-note bitch of a character doesn't provide much opportunity for her to shine even if she makes the most of it. Heather Mac Rae, on the other hand, seems to throw away her opportunities to steal the show while the youngster of the group, Ms. Romano, is sweet and fine but not especially memorable.
One of the real marvels here is that all of this (including space for the two-piece musical ensemble's baby grand piano) is shoe-horned onto the Cherry Lane Theatre's postage stamp of a stage. The art of Jennifer Paulson Lee's choreography is not so much in its originality -- there is little room for that -- as in its ability to keep the dancers (especially Lutken, who is supposed to be uncoördinated) from falling into the audience.
James Youman's bluish set design, utilizing a doughnut-shaped turntable to rotate furniture and the like on and off without a hassle, affords director Gabriel Barre the means to fluidly stage the production, but doesn't offer much for the eyes beyond an almost predictable blinking-stars moonscape" backdrop.
Setting the play in the early sixties seems fairly unimportant. As I mentioned, Lutken seems to recall an early Jimmy Stewart, but I suppose he could be Fred McMurray just as well. It does help costume designer Paula Scofield, who uses it for context, most noticeably in Crista Moore's Jackie-esque outfits. But it doesn't help at the box office, where the tariff of just under fifty dollars is rooted securely in the late nineties.
LINK MENTIONED ABOVE
CurtainUp's review of Bright Lights Big City