By Ruth Ross
Nowadays, plays about twenty- and thirty-somethings looking for love and commitment are a dime a dozen, so George Street Playhouse’s announcement of a new musical about a middle-aged widow embracing a new life sounded interesting. While not the “hilarious high-voltage romp” touted on the banner outside the theater, Curvy Widow tackles this rarely dealt with phenomenon in a mildly diverting albeit poignant production that manages to be both entertaining and enlightening.
Using her autobiographical account of her re-entry into the dating scene after a 36-year marriage, Bobby Goldman (widow of James Goldman, playwright noted for The Lion in Winter) has penned the book and Drew Brody the music and lyrics. No single musical number stands out (nor are any listed in the program), for the play is mostly sung through. Director Peter Flynn keeps the action moving for a brisk 90 minutes as we follow Bobby from the luxurious Upper East Side apartment she shared with James to the more funky downtown loft in which to start her new life. Faced with “half a life,” Bobby asks plaintively, “What now?” Urged by her psychiatrist and girl friends to “get laid,” she logs on to Match.com and later a sex site (using the handle “Curvy Widow,” she goes on “The March of Dates”), deals with an aging body and goes out with many men before realizing that she’s okay on her own (“I Choose Myself,” she sings at the end).
Nancy Opel (bove, right) is terrific as Bobby, hopeful, courageous and willing to try almost anything. She’s got a very good singing voice and works hard to put a song across, although I wish Marcos Santana had devised more interesting choreography than her sideways slide around the stage as she sings. Her standing still from time to time might let us savor Brody’s lyrics longer. Opel is especially good at conveying Bobby’s self-deprecating acceptance of her situation, especially her dismay at experiencing guilt about dating; she even argues with the ghost of her husband, played by Ken Land (above, center), possessor of a sonorous voice and dignified mien.
The seven-member cast works as a tight ensemble, with each actor complementing the others. As her friends Caroline, Heidi and Joan, Andrea Bianchi, Elizabeth Ward Land and Aisha de Haas provide able support for their friend; often, they act as a Greek Chorus, commenting upon the dilemmas she confronts. Alan Muraoka is equally as fine as The Shrink and various dates; as the former, he’s rather officious, in the latter roles, he’s often hilarious. And Christopher Shyer (below, with Opel) as the suitor Bobby calls Per Se (after the fancy restaurant he took her to) is very attractive and tempting.
Bob Bissinger’s scenic design is appropriate to the New York scene, with beds that appear and disappear, chaise longues that form a sofa and various cabinets that roll out to become other pieces of furniture. Functional without being fussy, it is atmospherically lit by Matthew Richards. Andrew David Sotomayor’s musical direction (a trio of piano, cello, drums and percussion located behind the stage) accompanies the cast without overpowering the singers. Kudos to costume designer Brian C. Hemesath; he gives us a veritable fashion show of jackets, tops and blouses Bobby slips on over her black slacks and tank top—each change signifying another event in Bobby’s life; her yellow hard hat reminds us that she owns (and runs) a construction company. Managing work and contracts, she’s one tough cookie.
I confess that I wasn’t blown away by Curvy Widow at first, but in retrospect I have concluded that such life-changing events as middle-aged widowhood and a subsequent re-entry into the dating scene don’t really need a 76-trombone band and lots of jokes. With women living longer than men, this situation is becoming all too familiar and no less worthy of attention than the angst experienced by the younger set. With its bittersweet memories of what once was and what has been lost, and its celebration (and anticipation) of a new life filled with love, survival and sex, Curvy Widow will ring true for many women (and men) of a certain age. It’s about time this generation gets its due.
Curvy Widow will be performed at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, through May 21. For performance information and tickets, call the box office at 732.246.7717 or visit www.GSPonline.org.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson.