Play: “I Love My Wife”
Group: New Line Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
Dates: October 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23
Tickets: $10-$20; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: Alvin and Wally, 30-something pals in 1977, have been friends since their school days in Trenton, New Jersey. Alvin also has known his wife Cleo since they were kids, and all the guys are friends with Wally’s wife Monica, whom they serenade at their favorite watering hole in the likable tune, “Monica.” Those guys include Alvin’s fellow furniture movers Quentin and Stanley and bartender Harvey.
Alvin’s comfortable life is turned upside down, though, when slick PR friend Wally suggests that a threesome is more sexually satisfying than the traditional duo. When Alvin finally agrees to try it, he’s dismayed to find out that Wally wants their third partner to be Cleo, not Monica. After Alvin balks, they decide on a ménage-a-quatre with both wives involved. But what will Cleo and Monica say to this? And when will they be approached about the idea? Has the Sexual Revolution arrived in Trenton?
Highlights: Based on a French play by Luis Regio and Didier Kaminka, this intimate musical satire on the Sexual Revolution by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Michael Stewart opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for more than two years, closing after 857 performances. It features a soft jazz score that director Scott Miller and conductor Justin Smolik accentuate with the clever addition of a banjo to the tight little band led by pianist Smolik and featuring Sue Goldford at the keyboard, Dave Hall on bass, guitarist and banjo player Michael Mason and percussionist Clancy Newell. Their steady musical support is important, because there really isn’t a particularly memorable tune in the score.
There are some fine musical moments, however, most notably the delightful number, “Someone Wonderful I Missed,” which features a quick beat and the amusing addition of a disco light courtesy of lighting designer Kenneth Zinkl, and the jaunty opening tune in Act II, “Hey There, Good Times,” belted out by the chorus of Zachary Allen Farmer, Troy Turnipseed and Joel Hackbarth as Harvey, Quentin and Stanley, respectively.
The real delight in this production, however, is the wonderful comic portrayal of Todd Schaefer as Alvin. Known for his musical abilities and serious dramatic work as well as his incisive set designs (he contributed the functional scenic backgrounds for this show), Schaefer consistently elicits the most laughs in this homage to the winsome 1969 film, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” with an arsenal of arrows in his comic quiver. Whether through his deadpan delivery of lines or the amusing physical schtick utilizing his gangly torso, Schaefer keeps the laugh meter running much of the time.
Other Info: That’s significant, because too often “I Love My Wife” is rather flat in its satirical delivery. It’s an OK show and a pretty good production under Miller’s steady guidance, but too much of this two-act musical motif fails to generate much excitement. The real surprise is that it ran for more than two years on Broadway, but maybe in 1977 it was more scintillating.
Jeffrey Wright is polished and personable as the somewhat sleazy Wally, who knows about sophistication because he visits New York City “every third Thursday,” and shows a nice comic touch in his moments with his wife, Monica. Sarah Armstrong demonstrates good vocal ability as Monica and has her moments in the comedy, as does Emily Berry as Alvin’s feisty better half, Cleo. Farmer, Turnipseed and Hackbarth are amusing as the earnest buddies who serve more or less as a Greek chorus, popping up at impromptu times in a bar or a bedroom to provide mirthful musical moments tossing off some of Stewart’s witty bon mots with an impish style.
Alison Helmer provides steady support as assistant director, Trisha Bakula adds some witty props (particularly Monica’s garish gift of red shoes for Wally at Christmas) and Thom Crain zeroes in on the disco era with his gaudy costumes. All in all, it’s a pleasant if uneventful evening of sporadic comedy and low-key music that welcomes the 20th season of New Line’s adventurous musical presentations on the St. Louis scene.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.