IF YOU GO
When: 8 p.m. March 29 & April 3-5; 2 p.m. March 29 & April 5; 3 p.m. April 6
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 8th Avenue South, Naples
Admission: $30; $10 rush ticket available one hour before showtime
Info: 866-811-4111 or online at gulfshoreplayhouse.org
The Gulfshore Playhouse rounded up a talented cast for their latest production, a comedic musical called "Married Alive." But one wishes they'd snagged a slightly better script and a decent sound system along the way.
From the pen of Sean Grennan with music by Leah Okimoto, "Married Alive" is a frothy, mostly high-octane look at life in the ball-and-chain lane; publicity materials tout the production as a look at marriage "from Niagara to Viagra." The show is told through the eyes of two couples — one young, one old — and hits nearly every conceivable issue involving mating, relating and procreating.
The 95-minute show — a bit short for a true Broadway-style musical — is a curious oddity. It is hilarious in places, but, like a marriage, certainly has its rough patches. There's song, yes, but there's also a bit of sketch comedy and a second-act attempt to find a deeper meaning that falls flatter than a busted stand-up routine.
"Married Alive" works best when it doesn't stray from what it should acknowledge and embrace — the fact that it is a decidedly populist, bubble gum pop music extravaganza. There are jokes about Viagra, credit cards, memo Mondays, boys and their techno toys, plastic surgery, bad wedding gifts, today's terrible teenagers and family holidays. Virtually no rock in the cliché garden is left unturned — and the jokes usually land — helped along by a vocally adept group of actors.
The problem with "Married Alive" is that the first and second acts bear little resemblance to each other — almost as if they came from two completely different shows. Act I features a number of amusing, if not lyrically-groundbreaking, songs and more than a decent handful of laugh-out-loud moments. There's a hilarious Viagra sketch with Catherine Cox (one half of the "oldyweds") in a Britney Spears-esque cheerleader outfit straight from the "Ooops, I Did It Again" music video (insert requisite jokes about cupcakes needing filling here) and the rousing gospel-inspired baby-on-the-way finale "Oh, Knocked Up!"
The second half opens with an extended, and tedious, skit about visiting the in-laws at Christmas and never recovers. The one-note sketch barely works as comedy and certainly not as a musical. The rest of Act II, including a bit that compares child-rearing to a battlefield, might mean to reflect the darker side of marriage — the struggles, the battles, the worries and the pain- — but just seems a bit of a boring no-fun zone. True to life? Yes. But not very entertaining.
The tonal shift from ditzy to deep was unexpected, unsolicited and unwise.
It exposes the show's essential lack of a plot aside from "marriage is hard." No one was asking for a statement about modern marriage. And the wildly veering course the actors are asked to follow in Act II pulls the show down somewhat.
Stephen Berger (Ron) and Catherine Cox (Diane) lead an excellent cast as the "experienced" couple. The pair banter playfully as a pirate and a sex kitten in the Viagra skit. At other times, it truly was like watching an old married couple bicker over what the survivor would do when one partner dies.
Brian Cooper (Paul) and Summer Broyhill (Erin) play the newlyweds with convincing passion. The pair's plaintive love song to each other, "Fly to Me," sung as the pair grapples with demanding careers — is perhaps the most honest moment of the entire play. The two also join Berger and Cox for the opening and closing "Stupid in Love" numbers that ring true to any married couples in the audience.
The show isn't helped in the least by awful sound problems. The live piano/synthesizer and drums repeatedly threatened to overpower the voices; mid-production attempts at correction only made the problems worse. If you're attending, ask for seats on the right side of the theater - away from the instruments.
I'm still undecided about Cecilia Balbiani's sets. I'll grant her inventive, creative and artistic — especially those trampoline-like structures that form the back wall of the set. They have the benefit of "looking cool" while probably doubling as sound reflectors. But the fanciful design doesn’t match the more realistic, if slightly loopy, tone of the show. Moreover, purple — especially the gaudy couch that looked for all the world like it had been upholstered in a Crown Royal bag — seemed the color du jour for no good or discernible reason.
"Married Alive" doesn't stray into any new territory in the war between the sexes, but couples of all ages and all stripes will find something to laugh at during the show. It is an often funny look at marriage with a dollop of slightly risqué humor and the winning cast could carry a tune to Fort Myers and back and still sing during Act II.