EmptyAtlantic Theater Company, New York
Through July 15
On the heels of its Tony-winning musical "Spring Awakening," off-Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company is presenting "10 Million Miles," with music and lyrics by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. Perhaps hoping that this musical, too, will beat a path to Broadway, Atlantic has even engaged "Awakening" director Michael Mayer. But as the show's title suggests, "10 Million Miles" has a ways to go before it is Broadway ready.
The concept, though slight, has possibilities, assuming you like pickup trucks and love stories. A shiny red pickup dominates the Atlantic's stage, the vehicle of choice for a drifter with a wild imagination named Duane (Matthew Morrison), who is driving from Florida to New York with his pregnant girlfriend, Molly (Irene Molloy). Along the way, the couple stop for the night (the truck bed becomes a motel bed) and stop to eat (a table top and seats slide out beneath the hood). They drop in on relatives and friends (all played by the excellent Skipp Sudduth and Mare Winningham), and the romance endures ups and downs. The truck comes through it unscathed. The musical is not so lucky.
One of the difficulties is Griffin's score. An inventive musician and poet whose albums range from folk ("Living With Ghosts") to rock ("Flaming Red") to eclectic (the recent, haunting "Children Running Through"), she appears to have stalled at "10 Million Miles." Even with backup from a band under Tim Weil's expert musical direction (situated at the rear of the stage, atop a concrete overpass), the 15 songs sound alike: sweet, country, bland. Instead of carrying the show forward or helping us know the characters, they tend to stop the musical cold.
Then there's Keith Bunin's book, which short-changes the plot and the characters after Duane and Molly, predictably, break up for a time. The motivation for their reunion, and the reuniting itself, would benefit from more development.
Despite the drawbacks, a clever, talented cast could make this an appealing musical, particularly at regional nonprofits. At the Atlantic, Morrison ("The Light in the Piazza") is a sexy and passionate Duane, and Sudduth ("Third Watch") and Winningham ("Georgia") make each of their many cameos a portrait to remember. Only Molloy seems to have strayed into the wrong show. Her stiff, expressionless performance deprives the production of the chemistry that Duane and Molly's relationship needs, especially if we are to care about their nearly two-hour, "million-mile" road trip.
10 MILLION MILES
Presented by Atlantic Theater Company in association with Ira Pittelman and Tom Hulce
Book: Keith Bunin
Music-lyrics: Patty Griffin
Director: Michael Mayer
Music director/arrangements/orchestrations: Tim Weil
Set designer: Derek McLane
Costume designer: Michael Krass
Lighting designers: Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound designer: Brian Roman
Duane: Matthew Morrison
Molly: Irene Molloy
The Women: Mare Winningham
The Men: Skipp Sudduth