The wonderful cabaret venue, 54 Below, continues to graciously offer new musicals a place to be seen and heard on the road to full production. On January 21, 2019, Producer Rob Schneider and director (and long time Shire collaborator) Richard Maltby, Jr. presented a beefed up concert version of their developing show, Our Table: A New Musical, with music by Broadway veteran David Shire, and book and lyrics by New Yorkerwriter Adam Gopnik.
The show was served up with gusto by a well seasoned cast, including the always scrumptious Melissa Errico and the rather saltier Constantine Maroulis.
Overall, the score was very much to my taste. The dialogue contained some nice comedic tidbits. The lyrics were packed with flavor. However, the structure of the story, as could best be determined from this abbreviated presentation, needs to be put back in the creative oven for a while.
Our Table is the story of a small, family run restaurant in Manhattan. It’s the kind of neighborhood business which gave classic New York its distinct creative flavor until fairly recently. Now, as landlords drive out small businesses in the hope of capturing a national tenant with deep pockets, this family restaurant, run for years by David (Andy Taylor) and his wife, Claire (Melissa Errico), is about to suffer the same fate. When their landlord unexpectedly raises the rent fifteen times what they had been paying, David turns to a painful source for financial assistance: His old partner, Sergio (Constantine Maroulis), who once walked out on their partnership and the restaurant.
Sergio is now a national brand himself, who makes more money in cook books, TV appearances and self-promotion than he ever could in a restaurant. He agrees to give David the money he needs for the restaurant only to piggyback onto its classy reputation, not because he expects to turn a profit. We learn later, however, that Sergio has two other real motives. The first is that he had a brief but passionate fling with Claire years ago, before she and David were a couple, which he now wants to renew. But that, too, turns out to be a ruse, once Sergio discovers that he can’t stick his breadstick back in the soup bowl, so to speak. What he really wants is to use the prestige of the restaurant to legitimize a wrap-around development of a Whole Foods-like center, which epitomizes the kind of commercial exploitation that David abhors.
In the story, David and Claire have two children. The youngest, Kate (Juliette McEnroe), wants to learn ballet from her ex-dancer mother. Claire, however, is too consumed with the restaurant to devote enough time to teaching her daughter. Claire’s song, “Everyday Dance,” which conflates ballet terminology with Claire’s need to order the tasks of her every day life, was one of my favorites among the many fine marriages of words and music in this score.
Their older teenage child, Bix, goes to visit a pizza parlor in Brooklyn, where he meets Anna (the charming Analise Scarpaci) and her father who runs the place, played by the brilliantly funny Mark Nelson. Bix and Anna meet cute, then sing a love song for Millenials, “So, Like, Maybe”, which is a brilliant deconstruction of today’s limited slang vocabulary applied to the language of love. The substantial sprinkling of this kind of wit throughout the show was the dangling carrot that held my interest.
Any time spent watching Ms. Errico is time well spent, as she always fills her performances with deep and complex emotion, delivered directly and effectively. And her singing was, as usual, liltingly beautiful. But I still wanted Claire to have been more at the center of the story.
Mr. Maroulis plays sleezy with disturbingly natural ease, and his fine tenor voice was a pleasure to hear. But Sergio neither convinced nor moved me as a character. If Sergio really wanted to take Claire away from David, or were more conflicted about betraying his relationships with either of them, it would have been a much more interesting situation.
Mr. Taylor gave a warm, quiet center to David. He senses that Sergio is after his wife. But nothing in the score seems to address that, which left him with little to fight for. In the end, the plot turns simply on Sergio’s desire to exploit the commercial potential of the new development. That gaveMr. Gopnik a soapbox to write about big-business-is-bad, but it left the story feeling incomplete emotionally.
The basic ingredients of a strong musical are here. The score is lovely, the lyrics are smart, the jokes are good, the characters engage us, and this cast, if they are available, proved that the show has the potential to be a crowd pleaser. Whether the holes in the checkered fabric of the story are also in the full version of the show can’t be fully determined from this concert presentation. But the potential is clearly here for a relationship driven piece with both a strong emotional center and a social conscience. If all that comes through in future development, this is a show that could leave audiences wanting a second helping. I hope I’ll want to come back for more myself.