By Donna Herman
There are things to love about The York Theatre Company’s new musical Marry Harry, but I’m not ready to put a ring on it. It needs a little polishing before I’d commit to a lifetime with it in its current form. The music by Dan Martin and lyrics by Michael Biello, longtime collaborators, was outstanding. The Greek chorus of Village Voices (Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian & Claire Saunders), while hardly an innovative device, was a delightful and refreshing way to impart information and set the scene. The talented and charismatic trio becomes almost a third character in the piece, and every time they enter you know it means fun. Where Marry Harry needs a little polishing is plot and character development.
Set in the East Village of NYC, in an alley between Cudicini’s Italian Restaurant and Zoya’s Bridal Shop, I was immediately enamored in the opening scene when the magnetic trio of the Village Voices singing “A New Day #1” introduces us to the 4 main characters. There’s Little Harry (David Spadora) and his dad Big Harry (Lenny Wolpe). Big Harry owns Cudicini’s as has his father before him and his father before him. Little Harry, almost 30, is a cook in the restaurant.
Then there’s Sherri (Morgan Cowling), almost 30, an MBA from Wharton, and her mother Francine (Robin Skye). They’re from the Upper East Side and are at Zoya’s to pick up Sherri’s wedding dress. They also tell us in the song: “It’s a new day/Nothing goes as it’s planned/Never does/…New goes askew/Today goes astray, astray, astray/At the old Italian restaurant/Near the corner of Fifth and A.” They also introduce themselves in the same song: “We three/Be here with you/To share an alternative point of view/You see us/They don’t/You hear us/They won’t/We’re up stage/Down stage/Left/Stage right/We’re everywhere/Yet out of sight.”
Marry Harry is essentially the love story between Harry and Sherri. Both of them are pushing 30 and dominated by a loving but overbearing parent who has manipulated their life choices. When the show opens, Little Harry lives over the restaurant with Big Harry but has dreams of leaving Cudicini’s and becoming a five star chef in his own right. He knows this will break his father’s heart. Sherri lives with her mother in their Park Avenue apartment and gave up her business dreams to help her mother run the real estate company her father left abandoned when he deserted her and her mother.
In short order Little Harry tells Big Harry his dreams, and Sherri learns that her fiancé is cheating on her and dumps him, and they meet in the alley between Cudicini’s and Zoya’s. Within 48 hours they have a date, fall in love, Sherri proposes to Harry, he agrees, they introduce their parents, come up with an idea to save the restaurant, Harry ends the engagement, and they decide to date. The End.
The essential problem is that Jennifer Robbins who wrote the book, has mistaken “who” for “what”. “Who” the characters are, is as important as the plot – “what” happens. Because who they are while things are happening will determine what happens. In Marry Harry we don’t really learn very much about the characters other than that they both like food, they have both been intimidated by their parents, and they’re confused. But, who are they? Reclusive? Outgoing? Funny? Shy? No sense of humor? Silly? Sexy? Tender-hearted?
Added to that is the really unbelievable timetable of the plot. These two people decide to get married in under 24 hours after they’ve met. And there’s nothing in the plot about a thunderbolt. Their “Marry Me” song talks about a “pleasant surprise” and “opposites attract,” but come on. Neither of them are in such dire straits that marriage to a stranger is at all reasonable unless there’s overwhelming passion. Which has certainly not been displayed in this case. There’s little to no chemistry between the two performers which adds to the general sense of unreality. Both David Spadora and Morgan Cowling give good performances and make the most out of the material they’re given, but there’s no spark between them.
But the character that won my heart hands down was Big Harry. A dreamer, a family man, a fighter, and all heart, he was well-drawn, and superbly played by Lenny Wolpe. So what if he sounded more Jewish than Italian? I’d rather change the name of the restaurant to Rothstein’s and make it a deli than mess with Big Harry.
Marry Harry Book by Jennifer Robbins, Music by Dan Martin, Lyrics by Michael Biello, Directed & Choreographed by Bill Castellino
WITH: Ben Chavez (Village Voices); Jesse Manocherian (Village Voices); Claire Saunders (Village Voices); David Spadora (Little Harry); Lenny Wolpe (Big Harry); Morgan Cowling (Sherri); Robin Skye (Francine); ric Svejcar (Piano/Conductor); Mercedes Beckman (Flute/Clarinet); Robin Burdulis (Percussion)
Music Director, Eric Svejcar; Scenic Design, James Morgan; Costume Design by Tyler M. Holland; Lighting Design by Paul Miller; Sound Design by Julian Evans; Prop Design by Zach Serafin; Production Manager, Kevin Maloof; Casting Director, Carol Hanzel; Production Stage Manager, Betty Clark. Presented by The York Theatre Company, James Morgan Producing Artistic Director. Through May 21st at St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue (entrance on 54th St. between 3rd Ave & Lexington Ave.). For Tickets: Call 212-935-5820; or visit the Box Office Tuesday through Friday 12pm to 6pm; or visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34375.