Oh boy! How could so much money be spent for so little? How could some of the most creative people on Broadway come up with this musical whimsy about a group of people stranded in a subway car, a cross between Sartre’s No Exit and a not very memorable episode of The Twilight Zone called Happiness, which isn’t by the way – now playing at Lincoln Center at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater? What went wrong?
Just about everything. The very large talented cast is about its only saving grace. And the subway car itself. It moves forward and back. It revolves. It’s transparent. As is the ridiculous plot.
In Happiness we see a cross section of the New York populace running around trying not to be late, trying to get things done, trying not to stress out during the madness and mayhem of another Monday morning. But things go awry. And somehow nine of them wind up on the same doomed albeit very talented subway car.
There is the plus size, gay decorator (Ken Page – who seems to be channeling Sarah Vaughan), a caustic radio host (a superb Joanna Gleason – somehow she rises above the muck and lands all of her jokes (few as they are) and shines as a Hippie at the Fillmore East with Mick Jagger – who is delightfully played by Robb Sapp making the maudlin action finally come alive with his short but inspired takeoff), a married pair of interns (Robert Petkoff and Pearl Sun – who unfortunately get to sing one of the worst songs in the show – “Family Flashcards”) a spry old lady in a wheelchair (Phyllis Somerville – who is every inch a lady and enchants us with her memories of a long ago love at the USO), a Latino bicycle delivery guy (Miguel Cervantes – chasing after roosters and doubling as the tooth fairy for his daughter), an ailing doorman (a fine Fred Applegate – who has fond memories of a baseball game with his dad – one of the very few highlights of the production), a woman who has dreams beyond her means (Jenny Powers – who is the only one that makes you feel some compassion for), a lawyer (Sebastian Arcelus – who forces his brief case into the closing doors of the car and thus joining the select group. And finally the conductor (Hunter Foster) who explains to one and all why they are there.
Those are just the main characters. As mentioned, there are lots of others on stage and in the above stage orchestra. Nothing has been spared to overproduce this show written by John Weidman of Assassins, Pacific Overtures and Contact fame (book) Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics) who wrote the wonderful Grey Gardens. All this directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Thomas Lynch is responsible for the imaginative sets.
Now here’s the kicker – what some call the spoiler – if you do not what to know the secret ingredient to this recipe for Happiness do not read further.
All the people stuck on the subway are dead. All, except the lawyer who forced himself on. And they are to choose the one perfect moment in their lives to relive for all eternity.
If I had to choose it would not be reliving this performance of Happiness. Sometimes it’s good to miss a train.