A Dreary Affair
June 2, 2008
By Joseph A. Gomez
As was the general critical concensus, A Catered Affair, Harvey Fierstein (book and lyrics) and John Bucchino's (music) new kitchen sink musical, is far from perfect. Based on a 1956 movie, the musical remains a flawed show at best with some strong performances (and one entrirely ill-conceived interpretation).
The show is filled with numerous anachronisms that just make little sense. For instance, the premarital bedroom scene between the two soon-to-be-newlyweds, played by Leslie Kritzer and Matt Cavenaugh. However that didn't bug me as much as Fierstein's openly gay and outspoken Uncle Winston. Fierstein's voice doesn't help. At all.
The story concerns Irish-American cabdriver Tom Hurley and his wife, Aggie, the unhappily married parents of Janie, whose impending marriage to Ralph acts as the show's center. Aggie yearns for a big, splashy affair (the one she never had) that would helped to be payed for with Tom's savings for part ownership of his taxi cab. Janie and Ralph want something simpler. Winston has his own ideas for the wedding (and the Hurleys have their own, too, that don't include Winston) and the soon-to be in-laws add their own visions of grandeur to the proceedings. After much hubub, City Hall seems more and more intriguing.
This recording manages to stick in a fair amount of dialogue (mainly from Fierstein - who acts almost as a narrator to the story); however, the book is unbearably pretensious and unimaginative - as is the music. The lyrics are adequate enough to not sound riduculous, however bring nothing more than a few decent rhymes. The main issue here is the music itself. Bucchino's score is lacking any true melody and the musical quickly turns into one of those shows that seem to go on forever without so much as a tune to remember. The recitative offered is sorely lacking in interest and just blabs on. The underscoring works better than the songs and confirms my belief that this would have made a better play with music.
Aggie's "Married" and Janie's "One White Dress" are the only notable songs, and this has less to do with the songs themselves than with the performances. And yet, even these songs will leave your memory once they are over. Everything else gets lost in an endless loop of vamping and melodic searching.
The performances are solid throughout. Faith Prince is a touching Aggie and Tom Wopat does what he can with Tom Hurley. They both are seasoned actors and have the skills to engage when necessary. However, given weak material, even the best performers can be easily challenged to entertain. And they falter here under the the laborious score and book. Leslie Kritzer and Matt Cavenaugh sing well and look good together.
Then of course you have Harvey Fierstein. When his croak is used to maximum effect (Hairspray), it can be a tool used to convey pathos and comedy. However, unashamedly casting himself in a role made for someone else, Fierstein unfortunately shines a light on a miscast and ill-conceived character. His voice is distracting at best and his vocal inflection (leaning towards an almost effeminate lilt) helps not.
The show reeks of self-indulgence and nihilism. I blame it all on Fierstein. His shtick doesn't work here. His handprints are all over the production and you can tell. In a noble effort to bring a serious-minded musical to the Broadway stage, A Catered Affair provides a boring and pretensious snorefest and gives inconsequential, yet fun, shows like Xanadu a reason to thrive.