The last time I saw “Have a Nice Life” written by Conor Mitchell (Music & Lyrics) with a Book by Matthew Hurt, was the first time it was performed in New York, as part of the New York Musical Festival in September 2006. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Fresh, exciting and emotional. Perfectly acted, sung and directed.
So please, someone explain to me what has happened to make this show the huge disappointment that I witnessed Sunday afternoon at the Lucille Lortel Theatre as part of this year’s Fringe Festival NYC.
As far as I can remember there was more to the orchestra than just a piano and drums. A lesser sound could not be the entire fault. And so I checked back to my original review.
There is a new director and a completely new cast that do not come up to high professional standards of the original. “Have a Nice Life” is now a mere shadow of itself. The actors try their best but they make this very emotionally honest show into something lighthearted especially in the staging of the musical numbers. I wish they would have trusted the material more. I remember exactly how I felt when Amy tells her story and how heart wrenching it was. Here I couldn’t care less about what was happening to her.
We should care about all these people in group therapy and I didn’t. Not this time around. www.nicepeopletheatre.org
Here is my original review:
I happen to be a tough critic to please but when I am pleased I will go all out to praise, promote and pull anyone into the theatre that I can to see the show. Such a show is Have A Nice Life – Book by Matthew Hurt with Conor Mitchell who just happens to be the brilliance behind the music and lyrics. This is a fresh, exciting, emotional and altogether musically invigorating piece of therapy.
Yes, therapy. There are six people who arrive for their group therapy session: Jackie (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan) who hasn’t been there for a while; Chris (Kevin Carolan) a mama’s boy looking for old fashioned love; Jean (Emily Skinner) an angry, lonely bitch; Barbara (Nicole Ruth Snelson) sent by the court for rehab and Frank (Michael Berry) a mailman who has come to score with the chicks. They speak and sing in the rhythms that they speak, with clever rhymes. An unusual way to begin, but which sets the musical tone for the evening. From one of Britain’s hottest young composers, Conor Mitchell.
The group has been meeting for ninety minutes a week for twenty two or so weeks without much of a breakthrough. Except for the fact that they are beginning to get on each others nerves. Their group leader, Patrick (Charles Hagerty) is trying his best to help them with what seems to be psychotherapy 101. But wait. Into the group arrives Amy (Michelle Blakely), a recently acquired friend of Jackie, who is brought there under false pretences. What follows is one of the most original pieces of musical theatre I have had the privilege of witnessing and loving.
There is a role playing game and a word association game and the game of life, which is the most important game of all, being played here. They begin to respond to Amy and get to know each other in ways heretofore impossible. All of this happens with the most amazing score. They talk. And then that talk segues into song and counterpoint and group numbers. And all the while the music is a delight to hear. The lyrics are so individual for each character – funny and witty and heartfelt – and the story is thrust forward by each and every fantastic cast member. The music is some of the best I have heard. It’s all extremely exciting and emotionally fulfilling. All of the characters learn something new about themselves and each other. And I think that we do too. The direction by Pip Pickering adds without distracting. He is the true group leader. Getting at the truth of these characters.
You have to see this show. But wait. The final performance was Sunday night. But wait. This show will be picked up. Will continue. It is sure to have a nice life, somewhere. It has to. With the exact same cast, I hope. They are perfect. We care for each and every one of them. Baring their emotions, looking for love, trying to understand their lives and singing their hearts out. Who knew group therapy could be so entertaining.
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