"THE GOODBYE GIRL" (THE MUSICAL) REVIEW—OPENING NIGHT
by Sr. Helena Burns, fsp
Now playing at Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
December 27, 2007—March 2, 2008
"The Goodbye Girl" was first a 1977 film by Neil Simon, then a 1993 musical. The ambience of the musical (costumes and references such as Whitney Houston and cabbage patch dolls) are 1993. The title refers to a single-Mom dancer--with a twelve-year-old daughter--who is frequently abandoned by her actor boyfriends.
The story centers on three characters: Mom Paula (the spunky, ageless, pixie-like Susan Moniz), her tenant Elliot (the ebullient, endlessly entertaining Bernie Yvon), and daughter Lucy (a perfect, talented-beyond-her-years, Theresa Moen). Paula falls in love too easily, and she and her daughter suffer the consequences—too frequently. Paula determines to close her heart, but she is unprepared for the impact of her new boarder: Elliot, also an actor.
"The Goodbye Girl" is a comedy about love, acting and confidence in oneself. Even for Elliot, who looks like he has his "act" together, the truth is otherwise. Although light fare, "The Goodbye Girl" confronts us with ourselves. Aren't we all acting, changing, trying to find and play ourselves? Don't we all romanticize love and want it to be "like the movies"? The song: "How Can I Win When I'm Not on My Side?" is a pointed self-interrogation. We cringe as we watch Paula giving in to her weakness (men with "charisma"), and think of our friends who unfailingly do the same. The play skillfully keeps us guessing: Can we trust Elliot? Can Paula? Can Paula trust herself? Can Elliot trust himself? Why are we humans so self-defeating, setting ourselves up to fail?
Told at first from Paula's perspective, it isn't until Elliot bursts on the scene that we fully commit to this tale. And burst he does, with almost Robin Williams-esque antics that will have you doubled over in no time (and keep you there). The diminutive Susan Moniz has a complementary foil to play off (Bernie Yvon is quite a bit larger). They convincingly turn off and on their chemistry at the appropriate times. Bernie Yvon—who makes his craft look so darn easy--fills the entire theatre with his presence and we find ourselves laughing whenever we so much as see his expressive face. The cast is obviously having a good time up there, so good in fact—especially when hilariously ad-libbing--that they teeter close to bleeding out of character. Much of this is due to Yvon's unrestrainable audience rapport. But after all, isn't it all about us? Would we rather he ignored us?
He borders on upstaging, but he has us eating out of his hand, and we know we'd watch anything in the future with him in it. Why haven't we seen this guy on the big (or little) screen?
The snappy banter and rapid-fire quips feel natural, not snarky. The lyrics (David Zippel) are extremely clever, with rather original insights into human nature. They say so much so well, and the rhyming totally clicks.
The most memorable numbers are: "Beat Behind," the "aging" Paula at a dance audition;
"Good News, Bad News," Paula and Elliot's shifting relationship; "Footsteps," a tender mother-daughter moment; "Paula—An Improvised Love Song," Paula and Elliot dance and romance on the roof; and "I Can Play This Part," the musical's true leitmotif. Not to be passed over is Elliot's side-splitting "Richard Interred," as he reluctantly does an avant-garde portrayal of Richard the Third. (Too hard to explain!) There's also an incredibly touching "father-daughter" moment when Moen is actually crying. Moen is proof that the acting bug/gift starts young. I wish I could tell you more about the unique concept this moment evokes in today's world of "broken families," but I'd be giving too much away….
Susan Moniz seems most relaxed in the comedic and romantic. She seems almost to be trying too hard when conjuring anger or distress.
The jam-packed on-stage activity buzzes and pops without being too busy. The choreography is alive, with a spirited ensemble and supporting cast. The pace is so energetic that "The Goodbye Girl" could definitely be seen again to catch more. The creative "automated" set—like a big Lazy Susan—makes transitions seamless, and is a truly fun feature of this production. It also serves to give different seats in the house an alternating birds-eye view. The live innovative balcony band was tight, unobtrusive and kept the mood right.
The story is actually quite small, taking place mostly in a cramped (revolving) apartment. But when it needs to, suddenly we're on the set of a PBS food show! The story-line never reaches beyond the humble parameters it sets for itself, and never takes itself too seriously. This is part of the reason "The Goodbye Girl" succeeds in being about the everyday magic we can all relate to. I would only fault the story in that the characters are supposed to trust each other without actual promises always being explicit. Character's expectations of each other are often a bit impressionistic, which further complicates the elusive nature of trust.
An offstage sexual encounter occurs (and is treated as a prelude to a hoped-for marriage), and Lucy makes clear references to former live-in boyfriends. There's a surprising bit of Godtalk—in the form of fervid actor's prayers to the Director Himself.
The piped-in music in the theatre before the curtain went up--all from the 1960's—sets the wrong tone, and makes us take a while to place exactly what decade we're in. (Perhaps it was just a background oldies' station, but it felt like it was getting us ready for the musical.) Brief stumbles over dialogue were minor. Paula's and Lucy's mics needed to be turned up a bit at the beginning of the show (especially in contrast to Yvon's booming voice), but it was rectified.
Do yourself a favor and see this joyful, heart-tickling treat!