Inaugurating the Hale Centre Theatre West Valley’s intimate new Black Box Theatre is “The Goodbye Girl,” a merry piffle of a musical based on a merry piffle of a Neil Simon play.
The theater is small, seating only 120, making it fine for a small-scale show like this. Only a pianist (Kelly DeHaan) accompanies the singing, and the actors don’t even need microphones to be heard.
The story follows Paula (Jeni Carver), a single mom who is consistently unlucky at love. As we begin, she has just been left by Tony, the latest in a series of potential “new dads” for young daughter Lucy (Gina Rizzuto; double-cast with Caitlin Henriksen).
Paula has decided to give up on men altogether when Elliot Garfield (Mark Daniels), a joking, exasperating would-be actor, comes along. Due to a turn of events that could exist only in a Neil Simon play, Elliot winds up sharing the apartment with Paula and Lucy (seems Tony the loser sub-let the place to Elliot, and Paula has no place else to go).
Elliot and Paula’s dislike for one another eventually turns to romance, but Elliot still must earn her trust — and the trust of her little girl.
The Elliot character seems like he needs a little more obnoxiousness in the beginning; as it is, it’s not entirely clear why Paula doesn’t like him. (Martin Short won a Tony for playing the role on Broadway, and one can picture him being quite suitably pesky.) The lines are there in the script; Daniels just needs to turn up the abrasiveness a little.
His later scenes, though, as he softens and Paula warms up to him, are marvelous. One particular highlight is a park scene, in which Elliot sweetly convinces Lucy that he’s not going to leave her mom the way the other men have. Daniels and Rizzuto both shine there.
Carver is also a stand-out as Paula, giving the character strength and vulnerability simultaneously, and winning the audience’s sympathy right from the start. She also has a strong, belting voice that gives the songs energy.
Neil Simon wrote the book for this musical, and it shows, with Simon-y vaudeville-style lines like, “Do you have anything to drink? Like diet arsenic?”
And Marvin Hamlisch’s music sounds like the stuff he wrote in the ’70s and ’80s (“A Chorus Line” being a prime example): a bit gaudy and cheesy, for the most part, with some pep now and then.
David Zippel’s lyrics, however, are immensely satisfying. Zippel is an expert with the rhymes and witticisms, and his words make the songs (and the show as a whole) move along breezily.
“The Goodbye Girl” is entertaining, if not particularly meaningful. It’s a fine way to unwind on a weekend evening.
My favorite example of David Zippel's great lyrics from this show: "She makes my tail start to wag/I'd never ty to improve her/If my lyrics make you gag/I'll apply the Sondheim-lich Maneuver." Man, that's clever.