Review of The New Group's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice at Pershing Square Signature Center

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    Date:
    February 5, 2020
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    For a show that delves into the dangers of infidelity, the biggest gamble taken by The New Group’s production of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is its faithfulness to its source material, the 1969 screenplay by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker. Ignoring both the siren call of the women’s movement and the effects of technology on the sanctity of marriage, director Scott Elliott delivers a deliberate period piece at Pershing Square Signature Center, with book writer Jonathan Marc Sherman staying close at heel to the film’s original dialog, as two California couples come to terms with their sexual boundaries. Fifty years of societal change later, some scenes hold more weight than they once did, while others have lost their steam.

    The creative team has taken other risks as well. Duncan Sheik and Amanda Green have musicalized the comedy, but this is a far cry from Sheik’s other exploration of rebellion and lust, Spring Awakening. Melodically, the tunes bend toward Burt Bacharach, though avoid going full-on bossa nova. Lyrically, on-the-nose end rhymes rule the night (“Would you do this guy a favor?/Give me a little flavor?/Guys like me don’t get a waiver/For a little misbehavior.”). And rarely are the songs fully formed. They surface in fragments and reprise, like ideas rising into consciousness. Elliot has staged the production like a lounge act, complete with an on-stage band, a beaded curtain backdrop, corded hand-held mics and distracting bouts of audience participation.

    Fortunately, the chemistry of the title character actors is dynamic. As Bob, Joél Pérez charmingly transforms from untrusting to overly open. Jennifer Damiano plays Carol, a role that nearly destroyed Natalie Wood’s career, with the perfect amount of passive-aggressive behavior. She is overjoyed that Bob can share his secrets with her and quietly incensed at just what those secrets are. Not for a moment is it believable that they are parents of a toddler, but their marital bond is undoubtable.

    Michael Zegen is known for playing the conflicted husband of an insistent wife on "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Here, as Ted, he does the same, but with Mr. Sherman, rather than Amy Sherman-Palladino, providing the dialog, he is an appropriately straight-laced ball of frustration. And Ana Nogueira offers a strong turn as Alice, a volatile mix of desperation and self-determination. The duo provide the evening’s most poignantly contemporary scene, a sharply directed look at less than consensual sex between husband and wife. That tension transfers nicely to the tale’s infamous conclusion with the foursome all tussling under the same sheet, having shed costumer Jeff Mahshie’s excellent fashion choices.

    The downfall of any double date is the presence of a fifth wheel and such is the case here with a character called the Band Leader who serves as narrator, serenader and portrayer of incidental characters. The role is performed by, of all people, Suzanne Vega. While it is a treat to hear her one-of-a-kind timbre, it is nearly impossible to shake off her history as a 1980’s New York folk icon, a miscast cat in this hipster Los Angeles. Nor is it clear whether Vega has been asked to deliver fully realized characters, or merely suggestions of their presence, most notably in a terribly conceived moment where she speaks as Horst, the Austrian tennis pro that Carol has brought to bed. Cross-gender acting is one thing, but this gender indifference reads as lazy.

    (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    "The sirens of sexual revolution sing with surprising gentleness in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the New Group’s musical adaptation of Paul Mazursky's 1969 movie. The prime asset of this friendly but toothless show, which opened on Tuesday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center, is Duncan Sheik’s pastel score, a hazy evocation of roads not taken by two square, 30-something couples floundering through a bewildering new world of erotic freedom."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Only in the show’s final 20 minutes do you get a sense of what might have been. Decked out in Jeff Mahshie’s fabulous mod costumes, the two couples attempt to shed more than just their inhibitions, yielding a collective anticlimax that is funny, messy and uncomfortable. Their simpers are the closest thing this show gets to a bang."
    Raven Snook for Time Out New York

    "Sheik appears to be channeling in his inner Burt Bacharach here, giving us soft, lulling tunes that have all the dramatic urgency of a babbling brook on Big Sur and, in effect, work to soften the satiric edge of Mazursky and Larry Tucker’s screenplay."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice succeeds in evoking the era in which it's set, from the amusing props (a copy of the late-'60s self-help book I'm OK — You're OK receives prominent placement) to Jeff Mahshie's costumes, which unfairly look awful on the men and fabulous on the women. But without any fresh perspective on either its source material or the age of sexual liberation in general, the whole enterprise seems sadly pointless."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter