The Review: Curvy Widow
Now she’s not really a senior, if you ask me, and for 55 years old, Bobby, the lead character, played with a big heart and a full voice by Tony Award nominee Nancy Opel (Honeymoon in Vegas), shines. She and her fellow cast mates certainly know how to kick up their heels, literally, and have a blast shaking their stuff. As directed by Peter Flynn (Theatre Row’s Two Rooms), Curvy Widow, a sassy new musical about bouncing back into the modern online dating world for the over fifty set, sings and frolics, filling the stage with a playful spark and a ‘let’s put on a show’ demeanor. With songs such as “Log On, Get Off“, “The Rules of Whittling Down” and “Gynecologist Tango“, it’s like a older vaudevillian show packed with a good heart and a saucy PG smile.
I must admit right off the bat that I wasn’t all that hopeful arriving at the Westside Theatre. A musical about a woman of a certain age, looking to find herself after the death of her husband, didn’t really sound like it would be all that good or that fun. As stated in my review of Really Rosie, the latest offering of the New York City Center Encores! Off Center, I discovered that this was just one of two shows that day where I felt out of my demographic league. At Really Rosie, I felt too old to really get the big voiced young Rosie who is trying to find out who she is in the big moving picture of life. And too young to really connect with the Curvy Widow who is basically trying to do the same.
But surprised am I that, although not breaking any new grounds, Curvy Widow is simplistic fun and mildly diverting. With music and lyrics by Drew Brody (Broadway’s Oh, Hello), and a very autobiographical book by Bobby Goldman, the musical manages to shed some of the weight the idea of death carries, and emerge as, well, not shiny or new, but as an enjoyable enough romp from uptown to downtown New York City. Without Opel’s stage presence though, I have a good feeling this show might not be able to sell itself so easily. She owns the stage and garners our good wishes. Her portrayal of Bobby delivers on both the good and the bad with the songs and the jokes. And there are a few on each end of the spectrum on both counts. Her opening number, “Under Control” is disarming and clever, while “Lying on the Bathroom Floor” isn’t as clever as it could or should be (music director: Andrew David Sotomayor; music supervisor: Wayne Barker; sound design: Ryan Rumery & M. Florian Staab). But Opel makes us blind to the weaknesses, or at least slightly hard of hearing.
Guided, persuaded, and coached by a trio of good friends, Andrea Bianchi (TV’s “As The World Turns“), Aisha de Hass (Broadway’s Rent), and Elizabeth Ward Land (Broadway’s Memphis), they embark on a voyage of intimate and sexual discovery through the downtown streets of New York City. There is a smart and very functional set by Rob Bissinger (Kristen Chenoweth: My Love Letter To Broadway), festive costumes by Brian Hemesath (Honeymoon in Vegas), and solid lighting design by Matthew Richards (Broadway’s Ann) that serves up the piece with a freshness and a grin. The gal pals help Bobby dive into all the twists and turns of the modern dating world from the romantic heights of Match.com to something way down beneath that. Standing back in formation, ready to give a hug, zing a witty retort of support, and sing in a girl-group chorus, “It’s Not A Match” when required. It’s silly and predictable, funny and enjoyable, with obvious jokes about getting laid and seeing the gynecologist, all sung with a wink and a sly silly smile. The three ladies act like a trio of wisecracking back-up singers from an old Bette Midler concert, or a not-so-subtle Greek chorus (sweet choreography by Marcos Santana). This is standard Widow fare humor, if there is such a thing, balancing the mourning and dating world in laughter and pathos.
The three men that round out the cast: Ken Land (Broadway’s Promises, Promises), Alan Muracoka (Broadway’s Aladdin), and Christopher Shyer (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!) play an assortment of friends, potential suitors, both good and despicable, and also a dead husband (Land) who just doesn’t want to fade from memory, at least not without a fight. Muracoka is quite a bit of fun as the therapist who gives Bobby one comical medical directive, and Shyer is equally charming as the prince who comes along and helps fulfill that directive.
Curvy Widow is unexpected. It doesn’t end as predicted, but it doesn’t surprise us too much either. This isn’t rocket science, nor is it Sondheim or even Lloyd-Webber, but for a rainy Wednesday afternoon, the older matinee crowd seemed to revel in the exploits of this feisty salt and pepper dynamo. Maybe because its roots are so firmly established in Goldman’s real life saga of re-inventing herself after the death of her husband, that the sentiment rings so true and authentic. I don’t think I am the show’s intended demographic, but I had more fun than I did hanging out with the youngin’s over at the New York City Center for Really Rosie. Maybe I’m a bit older on the inside than I’d like to admit, but maybe not quite a Curvy Widow just yet.