Review by Kathleen Campion
Long Story Short is nothing if not ambitious. Actors Bryce Ryness (Charles) and Pearl Sun (Hope) sing, strut, shout, wound, and laugh us through a lifetime, their lifetime as a couple. We meet them as they meet in their twenties, strangers in L.A. After a set up, they come back to his tiny apartment. He’s awkward and eager; she’s wary and woozy. She takes to his bed to sleep for an hour. The rest follows a traditional arc: they marry, they have children, they face loss, they no longer love—you can fill in the chapters. The thing is, in Long Story Short, there is a certain amount of magic in the telling of the tale.
First, Director Kent Nicholson is a conjurer! There are any number of rapid, startling transitions: from awkward fumbling to intimate abandon, from this-isn’t-working to honeymoon suite, even from no baby to our baby. Every one of these transitions is purposefully abrupt, surprising, and seamless.
The actors are cast in opposition—he’s a sweet Jewish boy and she’s a pragmatic Chinese American girl—a difference that leads to one of the best musical themes—a lovely blending of Chinese and Judeo mythologies.
By the time they lock up the audience with a disarming song-and-dance, reminiscent of the boy-girl tap numbers that were staples of 40s musicals, we already like Charles and Hope. The update here: he holds her breasts she cups his package as they dance around the tiny stage. Somehow, the absurdity underscores the giddy exuberance we’ve all felt in those early, joyous days of falling in love.
Musicals have long suffered from the incongruity of actors suddenly breaking into song at intimate moments. In Long Story Short they do it artfully. Pearl Sun sings the greater emotional range. She is show-stoppingly funny in “Empowered,” a series of entrances and exits, as she recounts the stages of post divorce dating. At another moment, she is spellbinding as she tells her husband how she’s managed to survive a tragic loss. Bryce Ryness’ character sings the thematic elements—the fragility of love, the power of loss.
The program tells us Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda have been writing songs together for years, and it shows, as they animate David Schulner’s play An Infinite Ache with sixteen songs. A man and a woman writing songs for a man and a woman to sing makes a lot of sense and the duets are particularly sweet in the harmonies.
Some of the lyrics have the feel of patter. Here, one of the musical’s themes as to why people marry:
Sometimes for convenience
Often for the money
and rarely if ever—
till recently never—
would two people tether
their futures together
for something as fragile as love
There are some cringey moments when the rhymes are distractingly forced:
I’d lunge like a tiger, a snake filled with venom
I know I would do anything to defend him.
Even so, this calls only for a polish in an already shiny show.
Long Story Short – by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda based on a play by David Schulner. Directed by Kent Nicholson
WITH: Bryce Ryness (Charles), Pearl Sun (Hope).
Music director Vadim Feichtner; designed by David L. Arsenault; lighting Grant W.S. Yeager, sound Kevin Heard; stage manager Emily Paige Ballou; orchestrations Brendan Milburn. Presented by Prospect Theater Company.
At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan; (212) 279-4200, ticketcentral.com. Through March 29th. Running time: 90 minutes no intermission.