Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Romantic Poetry


Book & Lyrics by John Patrick Shanley, Music by Henry Krieger, Directed by John Patrick Shanley. (CLOSED)

(Critic-O-Metered by Isaac Butler)

MTC's troubled season continues with Romantic Poetry. Multiple reviewers call the play a "train wreck" with most of the blame heaped at writer/director John Patrick Shanley's feet. Critics deride the play's logic, lack of characters, plot and lyrics. Time Out NY gives it its first ever zero-star review. Yeesh. Hopefully the Itamar Moses penned, Daniel Aukin helmed Back Back Back can lift MTC's season out of its 0-2 slump.

Back Stage B-
(Adam R. Perlman) Elsewhere Shanley has shown awareness that love can feel epic without stretching stage time to epic lengths, but here battles are fought and re-fought with diminishing emotional returns. The intermission—and everything that comes after—could be easily excised...Shanley has an ideal collaborator in Krieger, who has crafted a score both full-throated and playful...Judging from the tuner's many moments of delightful abandon, Shanley may ultimately find himself at home in the world of musical theatre. But for now, his mess runneth over. The troubadour could use an assist from the craftsman.

New Yorker C
(John Lahr) A reckless, flabbergasting spectacle, like watching soldiers go into battle with popguns...For the audience, there is no one to care for and nothing to believe in; there is only the sound of Shanley's self-congratulatory voice...Every word, every rhyme, every theatrical conceit seems to delight him: the show is positively agog at its own cleverness...Henry Krieger, who wrote the music for Dreamgirls, provides some genial melodies to back up Shanley's folly.

NJ Star-Ledger C-
(Michael Sommers) Shanley's libretto...strains to be playful. With nothing to ground its doings into some semblance of reality, however, the whimsically motivated tale comes across as a flimsy, even nonsensical, two hours. Allied to Shanley's lyrics, which sport humorous glints...Krieger composes 25 usually brief songs in a variety of modes, including tango, gospel and jazz. If the pleasant songs scarcely cling to the ear, August Eriksmoen's orchestrations for a five-member onstage ensemble sound sweet and supple.

New York C-
(Stephanie Zacharek) A musical comedy of modest ambitions, and it doesn't meet any of them...Shanley...tries to weld the perceived innocence of the thirties musical to the self-aware cluelessness of early-21st-century coupling, perhaps as a way of showing that not all that much has changed...At a certain point a production's simplicity—spare set, modest costumes—only reinforces how threadbare the material is. Nothing says "desperation" like asking a performer to sing a half-cooked melody, packed with wearying punny lyrics, against a sparkly curtain.

TheaterMania C-
(Dan Bacalzo) The large number of songs in the show also results in diminishing returns. Many of the sung sections would be more effective as spoken dialogue, as there's no real call for them to be musicalized. It seems as if Shanley incorporates so much singing to emphasize the whimsical aspects of the script, but too often Romantic Poetry fails to achieve the proper tone.

TalkinBroadway D+
(Matthew Murray) If there's an upside to Romantic Poetry, it's that it will fortify New York relationships for decades to come: If a couple survives this, they can survive anything. In every other way, this is the kind of date play you might take an ex to on April Fool's Day. This show's pusillanimously prankish atmosphere, though, is rarely a laughing matter.

NYTimes D+
(Ben Brantley) You certainly can't say that the show isn't of a piece. But that piece is made of ingredients that were meant to be consumed in small amounts. Only people who can make a meal out of marshmallows and marzipan are likely to find Romantic Poetry digestible.

Variety D+
(Steven Suskin) "Oh, somebody fix this!" cries one of the characters late in the first act. Producers should have heeded that suggestion. Shanley is known for keeping a tight rein over his material, but a little helpful guidance—or a lot—might have been in order for his first time tackling book, lyrics and direction of a musical. The talented writer presumably has something on his mind here, but the message is mighty cloudy. Romantic poetry it ain't.

NYPost D
(Frank Scheck) The show's level of humor is typified by the recurring gag in which there's a loud burst of thunder whenever someone mentions Long Island's Five Towns. But his lyrics are even worse: "The distance between us/A boy looks at Venus/His ache it is heinous/He touches his penis."

Hartford Courant D
(Malcolm Johnson) Shanley, who perhaps should have opted for another director, never really pulls his musical grab bag together in an evening that is rarely either romantic or poetic.

(Michael Kuchwara) Love—or maybe just ruminating on love—can drive a person to do wild, crazy and sometimes foolish things, such as write a musical. How else to explain Romantic Poetry, the bewildering collaboration of John Patrick Shanley (book, lyrics and heavy-handed direction) and Henry Krieger (music) that opened Tuesday off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I.

Wall Street Journal D
(Terry Teachout) It's about a cellphone salesman from Newark who longs to be a poet, which tells you just about all you need to know about the plot, in which—are you sitting down?—love conquers all. Henry Krieger of Dreamgirls wrote the music, which is as pedestrian and anonymous as Mr. Shanley's lyrics are slack and amateurish. The cabaret-style set is gorgeous, the actors excellent, except that they insist on speaking their lines.

Hollywood Reporter D-
(Alexis Greene) May Romantic Poetry pass quietly and quickly into theatrical lore.

NY Daily News D-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Poetry is proof that even talented writers can veer off track, as well as evidence that gifted performers are only as good as the material.

Newsday F
(Linda Winer) Shanley has never before written the lyrics and book for a musical. We now know why. Romantic Poetry, which Manhattan Theatre Club opened last night at the same space where "Doubt" had its premiere, is a terrible show—incoherent, forced and jauntily oblivious to the depths of its awfulness. If not for the Shanley brand and the equally bizarre disappointment of the derivative score by Henry Krieger, who composed Dreamgirls, the decent impulse would be to tiptoe away without calling attention to the show's baffling presence.

(Matt Windman) Reeking of desperate cutesiness, Romantic Poetry offers a nonsensical story with forgettable songs, dry one-liners and random silliness. In other words, it is a poor man's version of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.

Bloomberg F-
(John Simon) John Patrick Shanley, author of the spellbinding Doubt, and Henry Krieger, composer of the captivating Dreamgirls, have banded together to concoct one of the most incongruous, foolish and pretentious musicals ever inflicted on an audience.

Time Out NY F-
(Adam Feldman) I have sometimes wondered just how bad a show would have to be to merit a zero-star rating. Now I know, and it is a terrible knowledge. John Patrick Shanley and Henry Krieger's ludicrous new musical, Romantic Poetry, is a garish failure on every level. I will not bore you with details of Shanley's inane and incoherent story, since I have already been bored enough for the both of us. I will not describe the supremely tacky set, except to note that it has a shiny white ramp and a dash of zebra print. Nor will I name the floundering actors, out of consideration for them and their families.

Back Stage B- 9; New Yorker C 7; NJ Star-Ledger C- 6; New York C- 6; TheaterMania C- 6; Talkin Broadway D+ 5; NYTimes D+ 5; Variety D+ 5; AP D 4; Hartford Courant D 4; NYPost D 4; WSJ D 4; Hollywood Reporter D- 3; NY Daily News D- 3; Newsday F 1; AMNY F 1; TONY F- 0; Bloomberg F- 0; TOTAL = 73 / 18 = 4.05 D

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