Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Breakup Notebook: The Lesbian Musical


For a show that has only been staged at three venues (Los Angles, New York and San Diego), the ‘THE BREAKUP NOTEBOOK: THE LESBIAN MUSICAL,’ which is now on stage at Beck Center, has engendered a lot of national press and attention.

The show, whose sold-out opening night audience included the author, Patricia Cotter, musical originator and lyricist, Lori Scarlett, and the creator of the show’s additional music, David Manning, received an enthusiastic welcome.

It’s the kind of show that should have strong cult appeal to a target audience…lesbian women. That’s not to say others wouldn’t appreciate the often fine music and some clever lines, but there is a definite identification with the lesbian dating scene and life style that will allow for a kinship to grow with the material that might not be bridged with those not in on the many “in-jokes” that populate the script.

The story centers on Helen Hill, a thirty-three year-old who has been dumped by her long time girl friend. Helen is heart-broken, bitter and obsessed. Moving on is difficult. With the help of her friends (a bevy of stereotype lesbians and her gay fey confidant Bob), she attempts to get back into the dating scene, with disastrous, oft-hysterical results. In her path toward happiness, she faces alcoholic line dancers, an S&M leather dyke, a commitment phobic biker, and a kooky lawyer. Even a “Ms. Perfect,” who turns out to be less then perfect.

The music is more endearing than the book. The mainly pop songs poke fun at lesbian life, the meaning of love, how dyads choose songs to represent their couplehood, and the difference between lesbians and gay men.

Beck’s production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, is somewhat on target. One has to question the dichotomy between Russ Borski’s comic book set and the production. With walls covered with comic strip cells, many with clever bubbled speeches, the tone is bigger than life, thus putting the audience into a farcical mind set. The production starts the same way…over the top with the song, “Ghost of My Ex-Girlfriend.” Then, someplace during the first act, the show settles into a light comic tone, losing its outrageousness. By the second act, it’s more comic drama, then comic farce.

The cast is generally good. Though Jodi Dominick effectively develops the role of Helen, her voice is thin on the high notes and, even though she is miked, doesn’t have the necessary power. This is especially true when drummer Joey Scale lets loose like this is a rock concert, drowning out much of the vocals. Let’s hope, that as the play settles in, the band will tone down and allow the lyrics to shine through.

Tracee Patterson gives Frances, the “almost perfect girl-friend, but…,” the right look and edge. Her “What Do You Want From Me?/Your Way of Loving,” co-sung with Dominick, is one of the show’s musical highpoints.

Kayce Cummings, who, along with much of the ensemble, is dual-cast, is totally hot in “I’m on Fire.”

Eric Van Baars has such a good time, and is so natural in playing Bob, that he appears to be adlibbing rather than speaking memorized lines.

When Helen, after avoiding the issue for a long time, finally picks up a call from her mother, a side-splitting scene results. Alison Garrigan accurately portrays every lesbian’s worst nightmare, a mother who attempts to be “understanding” while being clueless to the reality of sexual orientation.

The rest of the cast does a nice job of developing their characterizations.

The show’s over all highlight is Martin Cespedes’s choreography. His creativity adds to the visual illusions of the script, and stresses the exaggerations with overstated poses and facial expressions that mirror the moods of the music being interpreted.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘THE BREAKUP NOTEBOOK: THE LESBIAN MUSICAL,’ is the kind of production that many will love, while others will like. Don’t be surprised if, in the future, the script gets an extended off-Broadway production.

Side comment: Congrats to Scott Spence and the staff at Beck for embracing scripts like ‘THE LESBIAN MUSICAL.’ They throw caution to the wind when they pick a script which may be outside their traditional audience and reach out to a broader community. Keep it up!