Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Theater Review: V-Day

Location: Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official New York Musical Theatre Festival site

Starring: David Rossmer, Steve Rosen, Sara Chase, Vadim Feichtner, Hannah Sielatycki

My Review: With a title like V-Day, and a description on the NYMF website that includes the phrase “hates Valentine’s Day,” you would expect this musical to focus heavily on the various things that suck about the supposed “most romantic day of the year.” But V-Day merely uses the holiday as a frame of reference, and instead tells a story about a guy who is trying to break the streak of incredible bad luck he’s recently had.

Josh Cohen is having a really crappy time in life. He’s struggling to make it as a writer in NYC, he’s unlucky in love, his overbearing Jewish parents want to know when he’s going to settle down already, and just a few days before Valentine’s Day, he comes home to find his apartment has been completely robbed. Well, almost completely; the robber had the decency to leave behind a Neil Diamond CD. But being the nice guy he is, Josh tries to be optimistic and looks forward to all the good things that are surely coming his way.

It looks like Josh’s luck is about to change when a check made out to him for $56,000 arrives in the mail. But he doesn’t recognize the name of the sender. Is it a long-lost relative from his vast extended family? Or some mysterious benefactor? Will his conscience let him take the money without fully knowing its origin? Will he ever be able to stop kicking himself if he doesn’t? And will there ever be a time when nice guys finish first?

While funny and enjoyable in the moment, I found V-Day to ultimately be kind of forgettable. It’s only been a couple of days since I saw it, and I’m struggling to remember details that stood out to me, and I’d be hard-pressed to hum any of the songs from it. The style of the show is clever; there are actually two Josh Cohen’s on stage throughout the show. One is in the present day, wielding a guitar and acting as a narrator/balladeer. The other is Josh one year earlier, who is struggling with the robbed apartment and the mysterious check. Present-day Josh tells the story of himself from the past year’s Valentine’s Day, guiding the other Josh through the steps of how the story goes. The two frequently interact (and sing) together, creating a bizarrely funny absurdity of one guy relating with himself.

The bulk of the show’s enjoyment goes to the chemistry between the two Joshes, played by V-Day’s writers and composers, David Rossmer and Steve Rosen. Rossmer is present-day Josh, expertly juggling the duties of narrating, singing, playing the guitar, and interacting with both the audience and the other Josh. Rosen is one-year-ago Josh, and gamely tackles the role of the comic foil, as his Josh has to suffer all the injustices that the other Josh already survived. Both men have great comic timing and play off each other well, which has to be much harder than it looks; if one of them were to miss a line or lose their energy, the entire production would come apart.

While cute and necessary to move the story along, the songs in V-Day aren’t really memorable, which is the opposite effect musical theater aims to have. The same basic riff is used in most of the tunes, and I’ve already forgotten how it goes. The lyrics are clever and humorous, but once they’re done serving their purpose in the show, they are easy to forget. Also slightly disappointing is that none of the songs really felt like the style of Neil Diamond. One of my initial draws to this particularly production (in a festival of over 30 shows) was the promise of some Neil Diamond-inspired melodies. But I failed to connect any of the original songs to Mr. Diamond and all his satin shirt glory.

Bottom Line: At just 80 minutes long with no intermission, V-Day was a highly enjoyable treat on a Saturday afternoon. It loses a bit of steam as it wraps everything up in the end, and the overlying message of “just be yourself, and good things will eventually come your way” felt a little too pat for me (because, let’s face it, that isn’t how life works, no matter how many songs you set to it). I’m not sure the show would really work in a larger setting, since it fits too perfectly into the festival mold of shoebox-size theaters, minimal staging, and narrowly-focused storytelling. But as festival offerings go, V-Day was a charming choice.

Image © Jeff Yorkes

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