Sunday’s delightful “family-affair” concert staged reading of the 1993 Broadway flop The Goodbye Girl made it abundantly clear why, despite a stellar pedigree, the Neil Simon-Marvin Hamlisch-David Zippel musical was not destined for a long life on The Great White Way, yet proved a perfect choice for Musical Theatre West’s One-Night-Only Reiner Reading Series.
The Goodbye Girl would seem to have had everything going for it two decades ago. A book by Comedy King Simon (based on his script for the movie hit that won Richard Dreyfuss that rarest of Best Actor Academy Awards, an Oscar for comedy); songs by the lyricist of City Of Angels and the composer of “The Way We Were,” “Nobody Does It Better,” “Through The Eyes Of Love,” and every single musical number in A Chorus Line; direction by five-time Tony winner Michael Kidd and choreography by the then already 5-time Tony-nominated Graciela Daniele; and a pair of stars (Bernadette Peters and Martin Short) who combined talent and star power in equal measure.
So what went wrong?
Well, when you come right down to it, The Goodbye Girl is, like the movie which preceded it, pretty much a three-character story and awfully small for a great-big Broadway musical. There’s one-time dancer Paula, who’s just been left in the lurch by boyfriend number who-knows-how-many. There’s her just-turned-teen daughter Lucy. And there’s aspiring actor Elliot, about to make his New York debut and eager to move into his Manhattan sublet.
Oh, and there’s a hitch.
Paula’s nogoodnik actor ex has rented out the apartment he’s been sharing with mother and daughter without bothering to tell Paula, and since both Elliot and Paula have shelled out the next four months’ rent in full, the two of them reach the only agreement that won’t leave either of them on the street.
They decide to cohabitate, their divergent schedules guaranteeing little need for them to spend any time together—though of course we know from the start that they will a) begin by driving each other batty; b) realize to their surprise that they actually like each other; and c) fall in love, leading Paula to wonder if, like all the men before him, Elliot too will turn her into the titular Goodbye Girl.
As for supporting characters?
Well, the musical does feature apartment super Mrs. Crosby, a couple of Lucy’s middle-school girlfriends, and Mark, the pretentious director of the godawful Richard III production starring Elliot in a transsexual twist on the title role, but Mrs. Crosby is given only a solo and a reprise, the girls get to harmonize with Lucy only a couple of times, and Mark gets … zilch.
As for the ensemble, well all The Goodbye Girl offers up are Paula’s fellow dancers, who get one A Chorus Line like try-out number and one Act Two production number, “Jump For Joy.”
And that’s it.
So when the question came down to, “Will audiences pay Broadway bucks for The Goodbye Girl, or will they opt for the then-running hits Crazy For You, Miss Saigon, Blood Brothers, or The Who’s Tommy, the answer was clear, and The Goodbye Girl closed after 188 performances and 23 previews.
Still, with characters as winning as Paula, Lucy, and Elliot, dialog as delightful as Simon’s, and songs as memorable as Hamlisch & Zippel’s, The Goodbye Girl would seem made for a 99-seat revival (has there ever been one in L.A.?) or a concert staged reading that would offer the added advantage of a full orchestra, 12-pieces-worth at MTW thanks to Pat & Janice Derouen.
For its inclusion in their popular Reiner Reading Series, Musical Theatre West couldn’t have made a more inspired choice of stars—Broadway’s 1995 Belle, Kim Huber; Huber’s husband (and the First National Tour’s Beast) Roger Befeler; and their daughter Paige Befeler, already on the road to musical theater leading ladyship.
Add to that the brilliant young director David Lamoureux, David’s mom Julie Lamoureux as musical director, and choreographic whiz Daniel A. Smith, and MTW put together a creative team able to pull off a thoroughly marvelous The Goodbye Girl in a mere 25 hours of rehearsal.
Huber’s absolutely engaging work as Paula, Befeler’s revelatory comedic gifts as Elliot, and their daughter’s adorably spunky turn as Lucy made for as terrific a trio of star performances as any audience could wish for, and their vocals were, not unexpectedly, to die for.
Stephanie Andersen’s sassy, big-voiced Mrs. Crosby, Jenna Lea Rosen and Jaidyn Young’s teen/tween charms as Cynthia and Melanie, Gabriel Kalomas’s hilariously full-of-himself Mark, and bubbly cameos by Daniel May as dance captain Billy and Jonathan Arana as the Richard Simmons-esque Ricky added up to a first-rate (if underused) supporting cast, with dancers Emily Dauwalder, Adrianna Rose Lyons, Steven Rada, and Jon M. Wailin shining in two pizzazzy dance numbers.
Additional kudos went to sound engineer Julie Ferrin and technical director Benjamin Karasik,
Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series is produced by David Lamoureux and Michael Betts.
Thanks go out as always to the Reiner Reading Series’ generous sponsors Ken & Dottie Reiner, with additional funding from The Ackerman Family/Evalyn M. Bauer Foundation and Kathy Baker Campbell.
Musical Theatre West concludes its 2013-2014 Reiner Reading Series in August with the Sherman Brothers’ rarely produced Busker Alley and the announcement of the 2014-15 season of Reiner Series readings. If past seasons are any indication, this coming year’s is destined to be an exciting one.
University Theatre, California State University, Long Beach.
June 29, 2014