Nathan Keen, Morgan Rose, Jonathan Rayson, Natalie Venetia Belcon,
Matt Walton, Antuan Raimone and Karen Hyland in a scene from The
Fig Leaves Are Falling
(Photo credit: Dixie Sheridan)
From its recent history, UnsungMusicalsCo. Inc. appears to have taken as its mission reviving lost and forgotten minor musicals (How Now Dow Jones, Platinum, Make Mine Manhattan, At Home Abroad) or giving a chance to musicals by major talents that never saw the light of day (Lee Pockriss and Carolyn Leigh’s Gatsby, Morton Gould and Leigh’s Nothing Is Forever). Now the company has turned its sights on The Fig Leaves Are Falling, a quick 1969 failure by parodist Allan Sherman (“Hello, Muddah, Hello, Fadduh”) and Tony Award-winning composer Albert Hague (Plain and Fancy and Redhead).
Director Ben West has refocused and reshaped the story using early drafts and reduced the cast from 32 to eight. Seven songs have been dropped and three previously cut songs (“Man,” “Anything Can Happen” and “Harry’s Song”) have been restored. The show is now performed in one act of 75 minutes. And what of the finished results? This story of the swinging 60’s told through the lives of suburban couple Harry and Lillian Stone seems dated and overly familiar. Its attitudes about sex and women are not only clichéd, but there is something winking and leering about the material without it actually being naughty. (Compare to Mad Men for a more sophisticated view of sex in the sixties.) What might have been seen as novel in 1969 is now terribly old-fashioned and behind the times. Seeking young mistresses but not wanting to give up their wives, the male characters want to have their cake and eat it too. There have been so many infidelity dramas in the past forty years that The Fig Leaves Are Falling is too simplistic and naïve to have anything new to say to us today.
The disappointment is great as Sherman was a brilliant satirist in his parodies. None of his song lyrics here match his clever cabaret songs of the sixties. As for his book, a trenchant musical of life in the suburbs, circa 1969, might be very informative - but this isn’t. The plot is very predictable and linear: conventional middle-aged businessman gets the twenty year itch when he is assigned a nubile new secretary, leaves his wife for her, and then returns to the security of family and domesticity. From the original cast list, it is apparent that West has removed a great many subplots which might have given a broader picture of life in the bedroom communities outside the big cities. Hague, whose classics like “Young and Foolish” and “Merely Marvelous” are songs you never forget once heard, has not written anything as soulful or catchy here. More’s the pity.
Natalie Venetia Belcon and Jonathan Rayson in a scene
from The Fig Leaves Are Falling
(Photo credit: Dixie Sheridan)
The Fig Leaves Are Falling is not unpleasant, merely innocuous. Using the framework of a television variety show (most recently used in Catch Me If You Can), we are introduced to host Charlie Montgomery and his weekly series, The Fig Leaves Are Falling, an early reality show in which people appear to tell the stories of their sexual liberation. He has run into his college buddy Harry Stone who has recently left his wife and like the old TV series This Is Your Life, Harry is brought on to tell his story which we see in flashback. Bored and in a rut, having never strayed, Harry is assigned sexy, intelligent, college grad Jenny Chapman as his new secretary. She immediately tries to change him: new ties, new paintings. When they spend some time together, Harry falls for her but won’t cheat on his wife Lillian back in Larchmont, NY. When Jenny announces that she is leaving New York for Los Angeles because she can’t stand being around him anymore, Harry is forced to make a decision in order not to lose her. Just like on the old TV show, Lillian is the surprise guest at the end to force Harry to make up his mind.
As Charlie Montgomery, Matt Walton opens the show but isn’t given much to do. He does have a leering smile which implies that his material is more suggestive than it is written. Jonathan Rayson’s Harry Stone is one of those tired businessmen roles that Jack Lemmon was so successful at playing. Unfortunately, Rayson makes Harry even blander than he is on paper. He does get to sing the show’s one memorable ballad, “Today I Saw a Rose.”
The real star of the show is Natalie Venetia Belcon who earlier this season demonstrated her remarkable talent in the musical The Last Smoker in America. Belcon makes all of her numbers (“We,” “For the Rest of My Life,” “Westchester Wildcat” and “Lillian! Lillian! Lillian!”) sound much better than they are with a pizzazz and a panache that are undeniable. Unfortunately, she is much too young to be convincing as a woman celebrating her twentieth wedding anniversary, a clear case of miscasting of a gifted performer.
Morgan Weed as Jenny Chapman in a
scene from The Fig Leaves Are Falling
(Photo credit: Dixie Sheridan)
The only other named character is young, blonde, shapely secretary Jenny Chapman played by Morgan Weed. Although she gives dynamic interpretations of “Like Yours,” “All of My Laughter,” and “Anything Can Happen,” her material and characterization makes us recall how much better this was handled by George Axelrod in The Seven Year Itch and Neil Simon in Promises, Promises, which covers some of the same sex-in-the-office territory. The ensemble of Karen Hyland, Nathan Keen, Antuan Raimone and Morgan Rose, who play both the chorus on Charlie’s show and other background roles, give able support.
As there is almost no scenery, the job of decorating the stage is left up to costume designer Janine Marie McCabe and lighting designer Joe Hodge who create colorful work but never for an instant suggest the late sixties time period. Richard J. Hinds’ energetic choreography includes a great many bits of dances not all popular forty years ago. “The Television City Trio” made up of Benet Braun, Gregg Monkeith and Kris Rogers plays the music quietly enough that all the lyrics can be easily heard, but the orchestrations by Braun and Andrew Graham do not make much of a case for Hague’s score.
There is nothing very wrong with The Fig Leaves Are Falling, but there isn’t anything particularly memorable about it either. It is like one of those delicious looking pastries that leaves you hungry ten minutes after you have eaten it and wanting more.
The Fig Leaves Are Falling (through January 26)
UnsungMusicalsCo. Inc. at the Connelly Theatre, 220 E. 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-868-4444 or visit http://www.unsungmusicals.org