Happiness -- Theater Review

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Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know the hoary concept behind the new musical "Happiness," playing at the Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, best to stop reading now.

For those who wish to continue, the show -- featuring a book by John Weidman ("Pacific Overtures," "Assassins"), a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie ("Grey Gardens") and direction and choreography by Susan Stroman ("The Producers") -- plays like a musical episode of "The Twilight Zone." A group of disparate New Yorkers are trapped underground in a stalled subway car. But guess what? They're really dead!

And that acerbic trainman (Hunter Foster)? He's their guide to the next life, which apparently consists of spending eternity reliving one's most perfect moment.

Those recollections, presented as song-and-dance numbers, form the crux of this ambitious but flawed musical, which hopefully will not serve as inspiration for an anthology series on Lifetime.

Among the characters on display are a nasty right-wing radio personality (Joanna Gleason); an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman (Phyllis Somerville); a gay, black architect who caters to the rich and famous (Ken Page); a Latino bike messenger (Miguel Cervantes); and, of course, a prototypical Type A lawyer (Sebastian Arcelus).

Needless to say, character revelations abound. That uptight conservative? Well, her perfect moment involves a zipless fuck with Mick Jagger, incarnated hilariously by Robb Sapp. And the macho Latino's memory involves dressing up as the tooth fairy, complete with tutu, for the benefit of his young daughter.

The characterizations and dialogue frequently are risible, but there are some charming production numbers, including the old woman's memory of falling in love with a young soldier at a USO dance right before he's shipped off to World War II and an older man's (Fred Applegate) recollection of attending a baseball game at the Polo Grounds with his father.

But the songs are highly uneven, and too rarely does the show provide emotional depth to its characters. An exception is the number "Gstaad" (performed superbly by Jenny Powers), in which a seemingly upscale young woman reveals the facade of her self-claimed identity.

Stroman stages the proceedings with her usual flair, with numbers like "Step Up the Ladder" (performed athletically by Foster) displaying the imaginative choreography for which she is renowned. And the performers, for the most part, are able to overcome the stereotypical nature of their roles. But aside from the occasional moment, this is not a show that delivers pure "Happiness."

Venue: Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, New York (Through June 7)
Cast: Ana Maria Andricain, Fred Applegate, Sebastian Arcelus, Miguel Cervantes, Patrick Cummings, Hunter Foster, Joanna Gleason, James Moye, Alessa Neeck, Ken Page, Robert Petkoff, Jenny Powers, Robb Sapp, Alexander Scheitinger, Lina Silver, Phyllis Somerville, Pearl Sun, Idara Victor
Book: John Weidman
Music: Scott Frankel
Lyrics: Michael Korie
Director-choreographer: Susan Stroman
Set designer: Thomas Lynch
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Donald Holder
Sound designer: Scott Lehrer
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