2009-08-19 / Arts & Entertainment News

Missing the bliss, 'Married Alive' shows little signs of life

ARTS COMMENTARY
.. NancySTETSON nstetson@floridaweekly.com

After seeing "Married Alive" at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre opening night, I think being buried alive would be a less agonizing way to go.

The musical by Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto looks at the joys and foibles of marriage with two sets of characters: a just-married couple (Kara Farmer and Jeff Ostermueller) and an older pair who've been married for a while (Cheyenne Nelson and Kevin T. Murphy).

The show begins and ends on a hopeful note, but there's not much in between to make the idea of matrimony even remotely enticing. There's little substance and nothing new. We've seen these situations and heard these jokes many times over already, and the show brings no new slants or insights.

We've all seen the husband sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV, remote in hand, watching sports.

We've all seen the wife who talks so much her husband can't get a word in edgewise.

You get the feeling Mr. Grennan and Ms. Okimoto are trying to imitate the highly successful musical "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," but they fall far short.

Mr. Grennan, who wrote the book and lyrics, seems to go for the easiest jokes. The lyrics are at best pedestrian, at worst cringe-worthy. His "This Game Takes Two" has couplets such as, "This game takes two/Just like chess" and "This game takes two/It's not luge." (Don't they have two-man luge in the Olympics?)

COURTESY PHOTO "Married Alive" runs through Sept. 26 at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. COURTESY PHOTO "Married Alive" runs through Sept. 26 at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. In "Oh, Knocked Up!" set to gospeltinged music, the inane lyrics include a line about having a baby on a Gerber box who'd make "other babies look as if they have the pox."

And in "The Lucky One," Mr. Ostermueller sings, "She married down/It lifts me up."

Oh, please.

All the old clichés…

"Married Alive" seems to traffic in clichés, trotting out all the standard situations that accompany the institution of marriage: money problems, in-law troubles, communication difficulties, having a baby versus not having a baby, how sex changes over the years.

The writers do try to modernize things by having a skit about a young couple trying to maintain a long-distance relationship. And they throw a hip-hop tune in the mix when singing about teens.

But much more often than it hits the target, this show misses.

Among the bright spots: There's the line, "Men are from Mars… where there is no intelligent life." And there's the 50-year-old woman unfairly passed over for a promotion who declares, "I'm too young to retire and too old to suck up to idiots."

But one of the funniest lines of the evening didn't get one laugh opening night; a young couple contemplates moving to Fort Myers, and the husband seriously says, "I hear it's the Paris of the southeast."

The musical's most clever moment comes at the very end, when the two couples are on stage together. The older couple is moving out of their home, the younger couple is just moving in. The dialogue overlaps, with the actors in two different households sometimes echoing each other, sometimes saying the same line simultaneously. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and it makes you wish the rest of the show leading up to this point had been as clever.

The bliss is missing

Ms. Farmer and Mr. Ostermueller are fresh out of college. Ms. Farmer has a funny turn playing twins home for Christmas; Mr. Ostermueller seems miscast, as he looks too young to be legally married.

Mr. Murphy gets stuck playing the hapless husband a lot, but has his moment as an aggressive dad who hates his son-in-law.

But it's Ms. Nelson, as the older wife, who shines in this otherwise dull production. She shows her comedic chops playing a mother at Christmas: "I don't ask for much," she moans. "I just want everything to be perfect." (Costume designer Jim Conti has dressed her perfectly, in a platinum bouffant wig complete with a poinsettia flower over the ear, and an atrocious holiday sweater.)

And she's poignant and touching when, passed over for a promotion, she wonders what her life is about, what it adds up to. "We Haven't Come So Far," her duet with Mr. Murphy, is one of the highlights of the evening, a paean to a love that's endured the years.

Ms. Nelson makes the most with the material she's given.

The set, by Robert Andrew Kovach, is minimalist. It's a nice, simple, polished stage, with a repeating labyrinth design and a backdrop with abstracted puzzle pieces.

Musical director Loren Strickland provides the show's sole accompaniment on piano. The music is predictable: pop tune, gospel tune, doo-wop '50's-ish tune, and yes, even a singer impersonating Elvis moves.

Director Michael Brindisi didn't have great material to work with, but I wish he'd pushed the envelope to at least stage it more creatively. (In one scene, an actor is driving a car. When he gets to his destination, what does he do? He winds up carrying the steering wheel into the house with him!)

In the end, "Married Alive" is as schlocky and as predictable as corny, self-penned wedding vows.

If you go

>>What: "Married Alive" >>When: through Sept. 26 >>Where: Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 1380 Colonial Blvd. >>Cost: $35 for dinner and show >>Information: Call 278-4422 or go to www. BroadwayPalm.com

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