Review of Roundabout Theatre Company's Darling Grenadine at Roundabout Underground

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    Date:
    February 11, 2020
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    “She lint rolled me,” delights Harry, a jingle composer who’s made a mint on a burger commercial, while reveling in how his shedding Labrador unwittingly played matchmaker for him and Louise, a Broadway chorus girl.

    In Darling Grenadine, a big-hearted and surprisingly tender if sometimes manipulative musical, it’s only a matter of time before this mutt-assisted couple who meets cute runs headlong into hurdles. That goes with any new romance. But these two face the sort of giant game-changer that defies a quick fix. 

    Daniel Zaitchik, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for this singing Manhattan love story, takes his time to reveal what makes Harry and Louise tick as well as that big problem. So there will be no overt spoilers here. Suffice it to say that what brings the two together--hair of the dog--is, in another sense, what threatens their future together.

    Because Harry and Louise are played with such overflowing, generous pours of appeal by Broadway actors Adam Kantor (The Band’s Visit, Fiddler on the Roof) and Emily Walton (Come From Away) you root for them to make it. Can they? The mind can’t help but flash to Mia and Sebastian in "La La Land."

    Zaitchik, who, like the show, is making his New York debut at the Roundabout’s Black Box Theatre, puts his own stamp and voice on the time-tested trope of boy-meets-girl. The story is set today but cell phones are nowhere to be seen. Instead, characters talk via old-fashioned microphones. Presumably that’s because nothing bends and upends time like falling in love. Songs, accompanied by a trio of musicians, are textured and easy on the ears and include dreamy ballads, Broadway-style pop and bluesy-jazzy torch numbers.

    The book, like some songs, has a playful side. Harry’s pooch and devoted gay brother (Jay Armstrong Johnson, excellent) are both named Paul, and that’s grist for punchlines. But the author has more in mind than being just another jokey rom-com. The story takes on grown-up themes of love, ambition, self-esteem and the legacies of family issues. The action begins and ends, we eventually realize, as a recollection related by Harry. It’s a rich and tidy conceit, even if one wonders how Harry could remember private moments between Louise and a fellow actress (Aury Krebs) and his brother Paul and his boyfriend (Matt Dallal) if he wasn’t there.

    Director and choreographer Michael Berresse’s in-the-round staging is an effective and eloquent choice for characters hiding secrets, since the actors are always completely exposed. Projected line drawings on walls surrounding the playing space evoke a storybook feel as the action moves from stage doors to walk-ups to a cozy piano bar. Meanwhile, actors frequently mime petting Harry’s pooch, whose barks and whimpers are trilled by a trumpeter (Mike Nappi). Whimsical? Weird? Mileage may vary.

    Darling Grenadine, in the end, similar to its titular tart and sugary red syrup, works a balancing act. The show treads a fine line between being charming and cloying as well as affecting and calculating, particularly when it comes to Paul, the pooch. Happily, most of the time it lands on the right side.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    "With Darling Grenadine, composer-lyricist Daniel Zaitchik emerges as a songwriter not only to watch but to enjoy at this very early moment in his career. Two years ago, he won the Kleban Prize for most promising musical theater lyricist, and with this new musical, it’s clear that his music is every bit as wonderful as his sophisticated word play. That latter literary talent somehow does not extend to his coining a great title for this show: Darling Grenadine, which opened Monday at Roundabout’s Off-Off-Broadway space, the Black Box Theatre. But there hasn’t been a new score this unabashedly romantic and soaring since Adam Guettel gave us The Light in the Piazza, which hit Broadway back in 2005."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "Darling Grenadine isn't fully successful in navigating its significant shift in tone from musical rom-com to serious dramatic territory, most of which is dealt with in the second act. And the storyline's alcoholism angle feels more than a little familiar, not explored in particularly interesting fashion. Nonetheless, the show proves both charming and bittersweet, delineating the troubled love story in uncommonly realistic fashion."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter