The Bedroom Window: Odyssey Theatre, 9/2/10

3 09 2010

When Stephen Sondheim presented his first musical to mentor Oscar Hammerstein II for an honest critique, Hammerstein responded that By George was the worst show he had ever read. “I didn’t say it wasn’t talented. It was terrible, and if you want to know why it’s terrible I’ll tell you.” Hammerstein then spent the afternoon dissecting the show – and Sondheim says, at the risk of hyperbole, that he learned more about songwriting that afternoon than most people learn in a lifetime.

The emerging musical theater writers of The Bedroom Window – Daniel Mahler (book), Nanea Miyata (music, lyrics, and book), and Brittany Morrison (book and lyrics) – are not the next Stephen Sondheim, nor is their musical terrible. But the comparison is apt: The Bedroom Window is a talented piece of work begging for the right mentor to come along and whip it into shape. This new musical for urban 20-somethings showcases young, enthusiastic, and promising talent – from the writers to the actors, designers, and director – but needs significant restructuring in order to fulfill its potential.

Fresh out of grad school, Gwen (the lovely Emily O’Brien) has just received a grant to write the next great American novel and has moved in with her stiff businessman boyfriend George (the polished and professional Keven Kaddi). As she struggles to overcome her writer’s block, though, Gwen finds herself transported far from her perfectly-planned life when her best friend Michael introduces her to an artsy bar called The Bedroom Window. There, Gwen meets a mysterious painter – Porter (Justin Mortelliti, a curious mix of Adam Pascal’s Roger from RENT with George from Sunday in the Park), who opens a door to Gwen’s passionate, artistic side that lies far beyond beyond George’s comprehension.

Honing in on Gwen’s central storyline could help cohere this musical. Unfortunately, The Bedroom Window is currently saddled with a number of extraneous characters and plotlines. The “Woman” – a quasi-narrator – pops up so infrequently as to pull the audience out of Gwen’s drama; she should either be more interactive with and purposeful to the story – or cut entirely. The ensemble likewise appears infrequently and without a defined sense of purpose; as with the narrator, a quasi-Greek chorus commentary could be effective – but only if woven throughout the entire show. (And the creative team should probably decide on either the narrator or the chorus: using both makes the drama drag.)

Additional mini-dramas surround Gwen’s brother Johnny, as well as Porter’s brother, sister, and smitten business partner Nik. These add up to an overwhelming confluence of conflicts to resolve in Act II; while it is nice to see each character developed, these conflicts often fall into soap opera cliche by their sheer number – and they should all defer to the central drama of Gwen. Michael’s secret crush on Gwen was, admittedly, a welcome and engaging complication – particularly as portrayed by the charismatic and sympathetic Jesse James Rice.

Ninea Miyata and Brittany Morrison have crafted a number of catchy tunes – but the presentational style of delivery and the obscene number of solos continually impedes the drama. Act I contains one “I am” / “I feel” song after another, from Nik’s “My Vice” to James’ “All for You” – and no character relationships are established musically until a duet about an hour into the show: Gwen and Porter’s “What Is It?”, which still does not allow the two to sing to one another. Often drawing on pop/rock structures rather than conventional musical theater form, the beginnings and endings of songs are often stilted and awkward. Miyata’s work shines when combining melodies, agglomerating experiences and connecting the characters musically – as in “The Start Again,” which I expected to be a vibrant finale. Unfortunately, this upbeat, overlapping performance deflects into a reprise of the ensemble’s more ambivalent, even depressing, “That’s How It Goes.” A restructuring of the show should include more opportunities for musically enacting the characters’ relationships – and a clear choice about the ending’s intended impact.

Despite these criticisms, The Bedroom Window does showcase a host of young LA-based talent. Elissa Weinzimmer’s direction helps to make sense of a sometimes floundering book. Haley Keim’s scenic design coupled with Krystle Smith’s lighting and Daniel Mahler’s simple, contemporary costuming is neat and clear. Kyle de Tarnowsky’s music direction is superb, and I particularly enjoyed the small band’s 90s nostalgia tribute before curtain – including selections from the Disney musical movies I grew up with, from Mary Poppins to The Little Mermaid. After all, The Bedroom Window is reaching out to my generation of theatergoers: the 20-somethings that are questioning and finding their life paths, striving to balance art and business, work and relationships.

Consider this a workshop performance, then. With some significant reworking, The Bedroom Window has the potential to draw this young demographic into the theater with a tighter, brighter show. I look forward to seeing what comes next from this gifted creative team as they continue to develop their talents.

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5 09 2010
THE BEDROOM WINDOW: 33% – Bittersweet : Bitter Lemons

[…] BITTERSWEET The Bedroom Window is a talented piece of work begging for the right mentor to come along and whip it into shape. This new musical for urban 20-somethings showcases young, enthusiastic, and promising talent – from the writers to the actors, designers, and director – but needs significant restructuring in order to fulfill its potential. Sarah Taylor Ellis – Compositions on Theatre […]

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