The hardest review for me to write about a comedy, or in this instance a musical-comedy, is the one in which I am surrounded by people obviously enjoying themselves, laughing their heads off while I sit and wonder why. I will try to explain.
“Curvy Widow” is, unquestionably, a lively, mainly autobiographical musical comedy written by Bobby Goldman, the widow of the lauded playwright James Goldman (the book for Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies”) and screenwriter (Academy Award for “The Lion in Winter”) that follows her sexual adventuring following his sudden demise. It has been sufficiently lubricated by director Peter Flynn so that all the participants are kept actively engaged if not necessarily engaging.
“Curvy Widow” is, indeed, Bobby (Nancy Opel), a healthy, vital, intelligent, very attractive, very wealthy, and very successful in her own right 55-year-old businesswoman (the owner of a construction company) with an enviable circle of close friends and attentive associates. Does she have a problem?
Bobby’s husband of 30 years has died of a sudden heart attack, and she is bereft. What does any woman of her ways and means do? Of course, she seeks the counsel and treatment of a psychiatrist (Alan Muraoka), whom we are led to understand is on a virtual family retainer. Apparently her husband (Ken Land) was a regular patient who spent his sessions regularly complaining about her. The psychiatrist’s advice — “a medical directive” — for Bobby is to “get laid.” Are you feeling sorry for Bobby yet? Just you wait, as she reluctantly but determinedly goes on an odyssey of sexual encounters through internet dating, with some that include the descriptive title “Adult.” Or as Bobby puts it, “a chapter ends, turn the page.”
For Bobby, the thought of meeting a new partner through mutual friends doesn’t enter the picture. What does initially enter the picture is the posh Upper East Side Manhattan penthouse that Bobby leaves in order to take up residence in a sprawling downtown loft, both of which are elegantly designed by Rob Bissinger to also accommodate other locations. Rich and pretty and smartly attired throughout the 90-minute show in a variety of colorful tops over black slacks (by costume designer Brian C. Hemesath) Bobby can do a quick change.
As Bobby is played by the very talented Opel (Tony nomination for “Urinetown”), we see a woman on stage with boundless vim and vigor who, after having ventured into dating sites, is more concerned about facing a “killer or a vegan” than she is the ghost of her husband, who makes regular unsettling visits to her bedroom. We can see that she is neither sophisticated nor quick enough to spot a phony.
As you may deduce, the possibilities for her are as endless as are the number of loonies, kooks, and weirdos she meets, discards, or is otherwise rejected by. She and the others playing multiple roles sing a number of lilting tunes by composer-lyricist Drew Brody. These cover the spectrum between clever and crass and are delivered to a large extent by Opel, who traverses the numerous notes with vitality and a self determined sense of urgency.
Why she allows herself in a rather extended scene to be seduced by a clumsy oaf (Muraoka) who admits to having prostate trouble is puzzling. Ken Land and Christopher Shyer gingerly portray other gentleman who drop in and out of Bobby’s life. Do we empathize?
A trio of girlfriends (Andrea Bianchi, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Aisha de Haas) serves mostly as a kind of Greek chorus without being of any useful service to our consternation-fueled heroine. Going shopping with her for condoms is good for a laugh, as is a group visit to a Dr. John for some sexual aid products when she finds herself drying up. Are you concerned?
This is a musical that doesn’t pretend to be more than a shallow diversion for those who fantasize about the sexual possibilities and proclivities of middle-aged women and, in this case, a widow who realizes she has not yet exhausted all her options. Is this enough to be satisfied?
Curvy Widow, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Through Sunday, May 21. $17 to $76. 732-246-7717 or www.GSPonline.org.