Bob and Jim Walton’s Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical,” playing through Saturday, April 4, at Off-Broadstreet Theater, began life at “The New York Music Theater Festival,” the same workshop-driven summer event that gave us Broadway’s “[title of show]” and upcoming “Next to Normal.” It speaks to the diversity of the current writing in American musical theater that these three drastically different plays can launch out of the same festival.
As presented by Off-Broadstreet, “Mid-Life!” seems to have some indecisive elements in the script, albeit with bright moments sprinkled throughout the evening. Two-dozen numbers poke fun at the aging process while attempting to offer some insight and commiseration to the whole ordeal. If you can think of a chagrin-worthy element of getting older, it’s in there. We’re privy to Carsonesque skits on memory loss, doctors’ visits (male and female), infidelity, prescription medication, biological clocks, fading virility, taking care of elderly parents, empty nesting, not-so-empty nesting, retirement fears — and that’s just the short list. The evening is presented as a collection of skits, each with a different troubling issue presented. Occasionally, director Robert Thick finds a moment where the material and cast combine in a moment of sharp irony worthy of Saturday Night Live, like when Todd Reichart gives us a list of possible cholesterol medication side effects that includes everything and the kitchen sink.
I can’t decide if the material itself needs more work, or if a greater helping of the aforementioned nudge-and-wink irony would have bound the evening better into a more cohesive package. As it stands, it’s an evening of musical sketch comedy — with every sketch, the actors reboot into a new set of characters with slightly different problems. It’s hard to find a lifeline to carry us through the piece, but the good news with this sort of construction is that if one number is not to your taste, the next one offers an entirely different style and fresh start.
While I found the tone of the writing a bit uneven, the six actors (Susan Blair, Susan Fowler. Todd Gregoire, Steve Murin, Vanessa Oates, and Todd Reichart, with Timothy Brown on piano) possess some lovely voices and give it their all. “Mid-Life!” is at its best when it approaches aging from a perspective of genuine fear and anxiety — it adds an element of truth that lets us attach to it a bit, as in the legitimately funny and relevant “Mid-Life Translator.” When the sketches drift towards Borscht-Belt style groaners, everything tends to fall a little flat, including “Another Trip to the Doctor,” which features every terrible euphemism you can think of for the dreaded prostate check. And then there are these rare moments of the bizarre, as in “He Got What He Deserves,” a revenge fantasy of women scorned, where one of the unfortunate wandering gentlemen gets caught in a compromising situation involving a sheep. Weird? Sure. Funny? Depends on your context.
“Mid-Life!” is enjoying more than a dozen productions nationally right now, with two blockbuster open-ended runs on top of that. And the near-capacity crowd on opening night sure seemed to be having a great time. There’s clearly an audience that loves it, and that’s saying something.
As always one of the best elements of seeing a show at Off-Broadstreet Theatre is the theater-going experience itself. Your price of admission comes with dessert and bottomless tea and coffee, and some of the best customer service you’ll find at any performing arts venue within 30 miles of here. The Off-Broadstreet Theater is a community theater in the truest sense of the word, in that it is deeply embraced and beloved by the community that supports it. Its longevity is testament to that. And, while I may have found some fault in the script of “Mid-Life!,” (and could that be because I’m only 27?) I’m confident that there will always be another show in the season that will grab me. But no matter what, you can always count on an evening at OBT to come with a slice of cake, some spirited conversation, and unprecedented warmth and hospitality.
“Mid-Life, the Crisis Musical,” Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, April 4. $27.50 to $29.50 includes dessert. 609-466-2766. www.off-broadstreet.com.