By Stanford Friedman
The Westside Theatre is no stranger to tales of female persistence and empowerment. Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues found a home there, as did Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore. Now add to the list Bobby Goldman’s mostly charming musical of lost love and found orgasms, Curvy Widow. In this autobiographical romp, the playwright takes us with her as she dates her way across New York with many Mr. Wrongs, and a potential Mr. Right, before finally getting a grip on herself. With plenty of money on hand, plenty of men who are a mouse click away, and with no pesky responsibilities like children or a 9 to 5 job, Bobby’s story is high on privilege and low on morality. She is not so much Auntie Mame as anti-Mame.
The production sinks or swims on the capabilities of the actor portraying Bobby. Fortunately, for all concerned, that actor is the clear voiced, powerhouse Broadway veteran, Nancy Opel. She propels her character through the sudden loss of a rich husband (Ken Land), and the spurring on by a psychiatrist (Alan Muraoka) to get her groove back. Willed forward by her gal pals, she conjures up an online version of herself, from which the show takes its title, and then careens from Match.com to a much raunchier sex website, to a misbegotten scheme of hooking up with married men. But thanks to Ms. Opel’s sensitive portrayal and comic wherewithal, Bobby remains amazingly likeable throughout it all. And by “throughout it all,” I mean she sings in some 14 musical numbers across a mere 85 minutes. Drew Brody’s score is uncomplicated but Opel finds the tenderness in ballads of lament like “Turn the Page,” and brings gusto to comic ensemble pieces like “Gynecologist Tango.” Her strongest moment comes in a reprise of the title song as she struggles to let loose with her libido. “She’s shaking…” she sings of herself, and it’s even odds that the next words will be “her hips” or “in fear.”
However, there are some corny and/or tacky moments that even Ms. Opel, as directed by Peter Flynn, cannot mug her way out of, including an overly arch trip to the drugstore to buy condoms, and a scene with her shrink where Bobby delivers what is, officially, the oldest joke in the book: “I’m finally living life among the young and the hip instead of the old and the hipless.” Also, despite employing one of the busiest hide-a-beds ever to grace a stage (credit Rob Bissinger’s scenic design), rarely has a contemporary Off-Broadway play been so demure in the boudoir. Admirers of sensible blouses will marvel at the amount of fully clothed sex that transpires here.
Ms. Goldman, in writing about herself, offers a fully fleshed out Bobby, though some realities, like the fact that she owns a construction company, only confuse matters. The supporting characters could only be so lucky; little writerly attention has been paid to them at all. Still, Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de Haas and Elizabeth Ward Land bring vitality to their chorus numbers. We see just enough of Mr. Land’s Jim, when alive, to feel the loss when he suddenly expires. But when he returns, in ghostly form, to bother Bobby, he is pretty much just a jerk (Goldman’s real-life husband was James Goldman who wrote The Lion in Winter and the book for Follies.). We are left wanting more of the debonair Christopher Shyer as the only well-adjusted man on stage, and Mr. Muraoka demonstrates that even with 18 seasons of Sesame Street and a Broadway stint in Aladdin under his belt, he can get plenty of laughs with adult material.
Curvy Widow – Book by Bobby Goldman, Music and Lyrics by Drew Brody; Directed by Peter Flynn.
WITH: Nancy Opel (Bobby), Andrea Bianchi (Caroline), Aisha de Haas (Joan), Elizabeth Ward Land (Heidi), Ken Land (Jim), Alan Muraoka (The Shrink) and Christopher Shyer (Per Se).
Choreography by Marcos Santana, scenic design by Rob Bissinger, costume design by Brian Hemesath, lighting design by Matthew Richards, sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab. Andrew Sotomayor, musical director; CJ LaRoche, production stage manager. At The Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd St., 212.239.6200, http://curvywidow.com. Running Time: 85 minutes.