Comedian Sarah Silverman has turned her bestselling memoir, The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee, into a musical with the help of co-book writer Joshua Harmon, author of this year’s award-winning Prayer for the French Republic, and composer Adam Schlesinger (Cry-Baby), who passed away in 2020 just as the show was about to go into rehearsal prior to the pandemic. The new musical, simply named The Bedwetter, like the book is by turns amusing, first hilarious and later serious. Anne Kauffman’s production has a top-notch cast headed by Bebe Neuwirth, Caissie Levy, Darren Goldstein and Rick Crom.
Like many of the plays of Joshua Harmon, this one is also about a dysfunctional Jewish family. The musical focuses on the year that ten-year-old Sarah (a cheerful Zoe Glick) first enters fifth grade in McKelvie Middle School, having moved to Bedford, New Hampshire, after her parents’ divorce. Her father Donald (a rather bland Darren Goldstein), who runs Crazy Donny’s Factory Outlet is very promiscuous, seducing all his women customers as he sells them clothes. Her mother Beth Ann (a forceful Caissie Levy), still suffering from the death of their son Jeffrey who died in a crib accident, doesn’t get out of bed. The only one who seems normal, older sister Laura (the suitably confused and compassionate Emily Zimmerman), now in the eighth grade, tries to distance herself from her showoff younger sister.
Her grandmother Nana (an elegant and sophisticated Bebe Neuwirth) who was babysitting at the time of the accident drinks Manhattans all day long and has taught her granddaughter how to make them which Nana thinks will impress her friends. Sarah’s secret is bedwetting which she wants to keep from her new classmates. Unfortunately, Nana accidently reveals it to Sarah’s three new friends who are visiting to prepare for the talent show when she shows up with packages of diapers.
Prudish members of the audience are hereby warned that ten-year-old Sarah is as potty-mouthed as her creator. We also find out that her dirty jokes are taught to her by her foul-mouthed father, and her Nana isn’t too careful with her language either. Among other influences on young Sarah are Miss New Hampshire (the animated and sexy Ashley Blanchet) who turns out to be from Bedford and had the same problem that Sarah has, and hypnotist Dr. Grimm and psychiatrist Dr. Riley (who prescribes 16 Xanax a day to the depressed Sarah) both played by a versatile Rick Crom. The believably stuck up Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis, Charlotte MacLeod and Margot Weintraub are Sarah’s classmates who are at first amused by her sense of humor and then repulsed. Ellyn Marie Marsh makes a strong impression as the ogre of a teacher, Mrs. Dembo.
The bouncy score by Schlesinger to lyrics by himself and Silverman is a mixed bag, understandable when you know that he died before the show went into rehearsals and the show has used composer-lyricist David Yazbek as creative consultant. The comic songs are most effective: the witty “I Couldn’t Agree More,” in which Sarah puts herself down with her new found school friends; Donald’s “In My Line of Work” where he defends his indefensible behavior; the three classmates’ gossip song, “I Heard”; and the title song which comes late in the show.
Kauffman’s direction is slick and polished throughout while choreographer Byron Easley has fashioned some smooth moves for Miss New Hampshire as well as the hilarious production number with three dancing huge yellow Xanax capsules. Laura Jellinek’s sets are suitable without being atmospheric while Kaye Voyce’s costumes are appropriate without being memorable. The lighting by Japhy Weideman covers everything from a classroom, to a darkened bedroom, to a waiting room, to a hospital, to a TV commercial, to the Miss America pageant. Kai Harada’s sound design is clear and lucid. Tom Watson’s hair and wigs designs include Sarah’s not very flattering pageboy.
The Bedwetter which is faithful to Silverman’s memoir while reducing it to one year in her life is in the tradition of what used to be called “through darkest adolescence.” Vastly entertaining, it will offend those not used to coarse humor. However, at the performance under review, the audience liked it the more ribald it became. The first half is more comic than the second half where Sarah deals with her own depression. However, the show has a sensational finale that should please all.
The Bedwetter (extended through July 10, 2022)
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-989-7996 or visit http://www.atlantictheater.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission