By Donna Herman
I go so you know
The takeaway from the original Paul Mazursky film “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” could be simply that what seems like a good idea at the time, may not be something to be acted upon. It’s a lesson that The New Group might have taken to heart before presenting the world premiere musical “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” based on the film with book by Jonathan Marc Sherman, Music by Duncan Sheik and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Amanda Green. It’s not that the musical is bad, although the first few scenes are lackluster, but I’m just wondering why anybody felt the burning need to revive this particular piece of work at this particular point in time.
In 1969 the film “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” garnered four Academy Award nominations, won two New York Film Critics Awards and a Writers Guild of America Award. At the time, a story about the plight of 30-something young parents who were caught in a generation gap while the sexual and social revolution was raging around them was highly relevant. Now, presenting the tale of a couple, Bob (Joél Pérez) and Carol (Jennifer Damiano) who have a life-changing experience at a consciousness-raising weekend and share their resulting openness about their extra-marital affairs with their best friends Ted (Michael Zegen) and Alice (Ana Nogueira), feels a little underwhelming.
The most interesting and surprising aspect of this musical version of “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” is the appearance in the cast/band of indie singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega in what they’re calling Band Leader but is actually a kind of Narrator/Utility Infielder role where she not only sings some of the songs and introduces some of the characters and actions, but also plays various minor characters extremely well. Sometimes as a voice-over, sometimes as an actual physically present character, but always with a perfect tone from the consciousness raising leader to Alice’s psychiatrist to both Bob and Ted’s temptresses, she gets some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Award-winning director Scott Elliott does another excellent job staging the rapidly changing scenes on a thrust stage with no set changes and a big assist from lighting designer Jeff Croiter and costume designer Jeff Mahshie (whose period costumes are to-die-for). But even he and the talented actors playing Bob and Carol can’t overcome the inherent vapidity of the characters they suffer from, even in the original movie.
On the other hand, actress Ana Nogueira is a smashing Alice and a worthy successor to Dyan Cannon who originated the role in the movie and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and won the New York Film Critics Award in the same category. And Michael Zegen as Ted is a perfect combination of nerdy pomposity that landed Elliott Gould an Academy Award nomination for the role. Duncan Sheik’s music sets the perfect soft rock/jazzy tone that the Burt Bachrach/Hal David tune “What the World Needs Now” did in the Mazursky movie. In the musical, I particularly enjoyed Carol’s “Journey to Us” and Ted’s “A Little Misbehavior.” Both Demiano and Zegen are excellent singers who can really deliver a song like a monologue.
Unfortunately, for all the talent, time and money behind this production, I still walked out thinking, why? It’s a bunch of white people’s problems from 1969 and it doesn’t really add anything to my life or understanding here in 2020.
“Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” Book by Jonathan Marc Sherman, Music by Duncan Sheik, Lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Amanda Green; Directed by Scott Elliott; Musical Staging by Kelly Devine
WITH: Jennifer Damiano (Carol); Jamie Mohamdein (Ensemble); Ana Nogueira (Alice); Joél Pérez (Bob); Suzanne Vega (Band Leader); Michael Zegen (Ted).
BAND: Jason Hart (Music Director/Keyboards); Simon Kafka (Guitars/Sitar/Bass); Noelle Rueschman (Reeds); Jamie Mohamdein (Bass/Drums).
Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Jeff Mahshie; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Sound Design by Jessica Paz; Orchestrations by Duncan Sheik; Music Supervision, Vocal Arrangements & Additional Orchestrations by Jason Hart; Music Coordinator, Antoine Silverman; Consultant, Jill Mazursky; Production Stage Manager, Valerie A. Peterson; Assistant Stage Manager, Nicole Iovino; Casting, Telsey + Company/Rachel Hoffman, CSA; Public Relations, Bridget Klapinski. Presented by The New Group, Scott Elliott, Artistic Director; Adam Bernstein, Executive Director. Performed at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street through March 22nd. Tickets are available via TheNewGroup.org or by calling 917-935-4242.