Monday, March 16, 2009

Rooms: A Rock Romance


Music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, book by Goodman and Miriam Gordon. Dir. Scott Schwartz. Chor. Matt Williams. (CLOSED)

Though most critics don't care much for the rock romance story of Rooms, finding it predictable (which incidentally means they don't mind giving away the ending), they can't seem to get enough of Leslie Kritzer. In this two-person show about a Scottish couple/song-writing team, she fares much better than the other half, Doug Kreeger, who some find too bland. Still, most critics enjoy Goodman's music and particularly appreciate Adam Koch's minimal set.

Talk Entertainment A+
(Oscar E Moore) The amazing double tour de force performances have been beautifully directed by Scott Schwartz. He should be much in demand. His idea to use a single doubled faced white door, which is on wheels, and moved about the stage to represent the various rooms and locations almost becoming a third character is put to brilliant use and is a technical theatrical treat. Everything on the stark set is exposed. The band. Speakers. Brick walls. Lighting equipment. And the souls of Ian and Monica. You can’t help but care for them. Falling in love with them as they fall for each other and routing for a happy ending. Discovering what makes them tick. How they write a song together. “Clean” which condenses Ian’s two years of being off the sauce is simply a great piece of writing.

Associated Press A
(Peter Santilli) Goodman's lively, narrative-infused score manages to be lyrical, clever and even poignant -- all without taking itself too seriously. And his tuneful songs are bolstered by a promising two-person cast and a capable backing band. Fast-rising star Leslie Kritzer is positively ebullient as Monica, an energetic, stardom-craving singer who dreams of performing in all the world's most famous rooms. The role seems an excellent fit for the talented Kritzer, whose Broadway credits include "A Catered Affair" and "Legally Blonde." Her lovely, versatile voice and natural flair for comedy make her the linchpin of this production.

Lighting & Sound America A
(David Barbour) The storyline of showbiz innocents broken up by their conflicting ambitions hearkens back to Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal, but the authors have a way of freshening up the formula, not least because the characters are drawn with affection and telling detail. Even when the Gordons haul out an 11th-hour plot twist from the cliché storeroom, it seems touching and true to the characters. The score, which fuses traditional rock with bits of jazz and new wave, infuses the action with a pulsing energy and goes a long way to fleshing out Monica and Ian's different viewpoints; "Let's Go to London" establishes Monica's winning -- if slightly pushy -- ways, and "Clean" effectively shows Ian struggling to get sober. "All I Want is Everything" is just about the last word in punk rock spoofs. The cast of two carries the entire evening with vast supplies of energy and invention.

New York Post A-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Paul Scott Goodman's "ROOMS a rock romance" turns out to be an appealing surprise. Much of the credit goes to Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger, who not only pull off the dreaded rolling R's, but also tirelessly strive to make us believe they're Scottish youths in love with music and each other. It's amazing these two don't just collapse onstage after 100 minutes of nonstop singing, wild emoting and even wilder jumping around. They give their all, and we're happy to take it.

The Daily News B+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) There’s a six-piece band in view on stage, where an entire world is created with a single scenic element, a white doorway wheeled constantly around. It’s an economic and poetic reminder that life is filled with chances to step out and over thresholds — or stay put... This rock romance has some cracks in the plaster: Some songs, as in Goodman’s adaptation of “Bright Lights, Big City,” are overly linear — “Let’s Go to London” was a cousin of “I Wanna Have Sex Tonight” from the earlier show. And at times the actors’ thick brogues threaten to squash their performances. Nonetheless, you care about these two characters. “Rooms” is right at home Off-Broadway in a show worth checking into.

Backstage B+
(Andy Propst) Though Goodman and Gordon's book relies too heavily on the clichés of a too-rapid rise to stardom (Monica's bulimia alongside Ian's alcoholism), Goodman's songs—delivered powerfully by the performers—are a catchy amalgam of late-1970s rock styles fused with musical theatre tradition. The lyrics are well-crafted, often surprising, and even a little satiric, particularly when the duo are performing in their punk personae. Director Scott Schwartz's production unfolds with ease on Adam Koch's set, which resembles a warehouse that's been converted into a performance venue. Two chairs and a rolling door are all that's needed to whisk the pair from their childhood homes in Glasgow to London and finally New York. Alejo Vietti's costumes, like the score, comment wittily on period styles, and though the musical never fully convinces, it's an amiable and powerfully performed trip back to the late '70s.

Variety B+
(Steven Suskin) Given the presence of only two actors, even a precocious pre-teen could forecast the second-half trajectory… That said, Goodman's songs keep us involved. They range from tender to tough, introspective to brash, and punk rock to good old showbiz; the music is often inventive, and the lyrics are laced with delightful images. Kreeger makes an attractive and sympathetic hero, which is not easy to do with that ever-present bottle of Clan MacGregor. Kritzer, meanwhile, takes command again and again... It's not quite a totally successful musical, but "Rooms" provides a jolt of entertainment to the current Off Broadway scene, with two performers well worth watching.

The New York Times B
(Neil Genzlinger) Ms. Kritzer is funny and fabulous as she negotiates the various musical forms. And Mr. Kreeger deserves credit for staying just low-key enough to let her dominate while still having his moments (for instance, in “Clean,” a delicately rendered song about sobering up). Both of them have solid voices, and Mr. Goodman gives them some songs that are quite listenable. The two actors are strong enough that when the musical takes a turn into not-very-convincing melodrama, you stick with them and their characters anyway. A five-piece band backs them nicely.

Time Out NY B-
(David Cote) Is there a technical showbiz term—besides divine—to describe Leslie Kritzer? She's the rare singer-performer around whom musicals ought to form as naturally as the earth's mantle surrounds its moltencore. She has a wallpaper-shredding belt that belies her petite form and pretty, elfin looks. She's drop-dead funny but owns her serious moments. Where is her big, fat, custom-built Broadway show? ROOMS a rock romance is a decent vehicle for Kritzer's multiple talents, but it leaves you wanting a better showcase for her gifts.

Talkin' Broadway C-
(Matthew Murray) Goodman’s songs are rife with the club-thumping sounds of the era, but can’t help Kreeger find the man in his moper: They’re drearily dressed up pop rather than theater-ready. Kritzer avoids the problem by attacking every song (especially her blistering and anxious tour-de-force, “Bring the Future Faster”) as if it’s part of Monica’s imaginary concert debut. Kreeger’s lackadaisical take and Goodman’s largely indifferent material confine Ian to coffee shops. At least Schwartz seems to have escaped one. He’s toned down his original caffeinated staging and focused more intently on Ian and Monica than on the door-on-casters that is still pushed around to define every playing space. (The set, a multitiered, vaguely clublike construction, is by Adam Koch.) This lets you judge the story’s human core more easily, even though it usually ends up looking and sounding hollow. Kritzer, however, fills it to the brim at every available opportunity: sometimes with sugar, sometimes with vinegar, sometime with tears.

Theatermania D+
(Adam R. Perlman) It's not the innocence of the characters that accounts for the show's emotional inertia, nor is it lack of personal feeling. Indeed, the problem seems to lie with the musical material, which tries to blend rock and theater, yet doesn't hold up as either. The uncomfortable amalgam yields a series of naïve musical nothings linked by some fatty connective tissue -- a book littered with punny and unfunny jokes, such as Ian consistently calling his partner Mon when she prefers to be called Monica. At least Kritzer -- a deft comedienne -- gets one moment to shine, delivering a Bat Mitzvah commission that becomes a comical coming out party. Meanwhile, Kreeger has not a single choice song to deliver; and director Scott Schwartz allows him to affect a twitchy, sullen physicality and hoarse whisper (not to mention an unconvincing Scottish accent) that draw upon the most limited, unappealing parts of his vocal range.

CurtainUp D+
(Les Gutman) While Kritzer exudes the sort of charisma that adds her to the list of Broadway stars-in-the-making, Kreeger is stuck in a role that is uncharismatic by design. Indeed, from his awful haircut to his misanthropic personality, Ian provides little support for a "breakout" performance, and Kreeger doesn't really manufacture one. While he never knocks our socks off, he has a nice voice that serves the songs well. Lacking a great story, it would be nice to be able to say that at least the show has some terrific songs, but alas they too are fairly unmemorable. Although the show is billed as a rock musical, most of Goodman's music falls closer to a 70s pop idiom, and has a repetitive feel. When he attempts punk rock, his music has the dishonest feel of someone working outside of this native genre.

Talk Entertainment A+ 14; Associated Press A 13; Lighting & Sound America A 13; NY Post A- 12; The Daily News B+ 11; Backstage B+ 11; Variety B+ 11; The New York Times B 10; TONY B- 9; Talkin' Broadway C- 6; Theatermania D+ 5; CurtainUp D+ 5; TOTAL: 120/12 = 10 (B)

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