"Almost Perfect," at UVSC
by Eric D. Snider
Published on November 8, 2002
"Almost Perfect" is a rare thing: A bad show that makes it easy to tell where it went wrong.
Let us trace the trajectory of this new musical comedy, written by Doug Stewart ("Saturday's Warrior") with music by Merrill Jenson ("Legacy").
The trouble is not in the production. The sets are high-schoolish, yes, but bad sets do not make a bad show. The live orchestra, conducted by Sean Jackson, sounds fine. Most of the singing voices are good enough. The performances are adequate.
Nor is the trouble with the direction, necessarily. James Arrington keeps the pace up as much as he can -- a near-impossibility considering how many extraneous numbers bog down the show.
The trouble with "Almost Perfect" is in its initial concept: It doesn't have one. There is no story here. It borrows heavily from "Guys and Dolls" and "The Music Man" specifically, but more to the point, it borrows from every major musical theater work of the past 65 years, including a "dream ballet" that serves no purpose other than establishing that the authors have seen "Oklahoma!" Nothing in it is original or new, and that goes for Jenson's perfunctory Generic Musical score, too.
Set in 1941 in a watered-down version of the watered-down version of New York found in "Guys and Dolls," the show focuses on Jack Riley (Jeff McLean), whom we are told is a con man. His new idea is to marry rich LaRue Canfield (Allison Hawks) and take over her father's gun-manufacturing business. He will then install co-conspirator Eddy Schumacher (Kimball Wirig) as business manager, skim off the top, and make a fortune before the company knows what hit it.
Alas, immediately upon seeing Canfield employee Anna Caruso (Andrea Ingles), Jack falls in love. Somehow, he plans to woo Anna, not marry LaRue, and yet still get all the money. (He wants Eddy to marry LaRue instead, which means Eddy will have plenty of dough; I guess Jack expects him to share.)
The conflicts are all standard musical-theater fare, as are their resolutions. What's stunning is how little effort is put into conveying them. For example, I knew LaRue and Eddy would wind up together -- they're both secondary characters, played mostly for laughs; that's what happens to characters like that -- I just assumed the show would have it make sense somehow. But no, LaRue randomly decides, not two minutes after screaming about her undying love for Jack, that she's REALLY in love with Eddy.
Doug Stewart knew he had to get LaRue off Jack's case so Jack would be free to marry Anna. All I can think is that Stewart couldn't think of a way to make that happen logically, so he gave up trying. Explaining what occurs in this show is like explaining a dream: "So LaRue's totally in love with Jack, but then she's in love with Eddy instead" makes as much sense as, "So I'm in my house, but then it's not my house anymore, it's an IHOP."
Jack's a jerk, too, which is a hindrance. "Bad" guys who need to reform are one thing. Lying, conniving, manipulating, dishonest jackasses are something else. How is the audience expected to stay with the show when the lead character is so unlikable?
Another character, Claudio (Clay Elder), is in love with Anna, which could make for a love triangle -- except that he's given an unnecessary character twist that removes any possible suspense over whom Anna will choose.
I get the sense that everyone was doing the best with what they were given. Show up with bland dialogue, bland music and bland lyrics and yeah, you're going to get a bland show.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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