CHASING MEM’RIES: A DIFFERENT KIND OF MUSICAL

Tyne Daly rises above the material she’s been given in Chasing Mem’ries: A Different Kind Musical, though if by “different,” book writer Josh Ravetch means clichéd, maudlin, sitcommy, and song-deficient, then this Geffen Playhouse World Premiere “musical” is indeed quite different from the rest.

Daly stars as recently widowed Victoria, mourning the loss of her husband of fifty-seven years and not at all ready for today’s memorial service, which is why rather than mingle amongst the several hundred guests gathered on the lawn beneath her New England attic window, she’s chosen to hide upstairs surrounded by more than half-a-century of accumulated mem’ries.

Grown son Mason (Scott Kradolfer) pleads with Mama to come down and be sociable but to no avail. Why, Victoria demands, should she spend even a moment of her time with so-called friends who stayed clear of her husband’s hospital room as he lay dying? Why should she be forced to listen to a badly sung “The Way We Were” or sit through a boring, hour-long eulogy? Why should she be anywhere other than inside the house that she and her beloved Franklin called home?

It takes forty minutes of Chasing Mem’ries ninety for the real reason Victoria wishes to stay cooped up in the attic to be revealed, namely that despite having died a month ago today, Franklin (Robert Forster) has been paying the Widow Victoria daily visits ever since.

That’s right. Poor Vic’s been haunted by a ghost, not a figment of her imagination but by an actual, honest-to-goodness, knows-things-that-only-he-could-know ghost, a premise that worked to screwball perfecton in Topper and to dramatic effecct when Patrick Swayze came back from the dead to save Demi Moore’s life in Ghost, but here it is just plain silly.

Not that there haven’t been enough laughs in Chasing Mem’ries’ first half for a Ghost And Mrs. Muir-type comedy to have worked minus the sitcom shtick, but once Franklin shows up, things turn weepy as Victoria finds herself forced to face the truth. that Franklin’s ghost has no intention of sticking around forever.

We in the audience, on the other hand, must stick it out for another fifty minutes.

Besides Daly, in her element here playing feisty, outspoken, and just plain loud, Chasing Mem’ries biggest draw would seem to be its “songs written by legendary lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman” and recycled from the extensive Bergman catalog. Unfortunately there are only about half-a-dozen or so of them in all, thereby pretty much negating Chasing Mem’ries claim to be a musical, “different kind” or not.

Daly does manage to get laughs from one-liners as tired as “What exactly is the Jewish equivalent of an Eagle Scout?” “Heart surgeon.” And the Tony-winner can at least sing better than the otherwise fine Kradolfer and a whole lot better than her leading man.

Unfortunately, movie fame does not a singer make, and for every three or four notes Forster does, bless his heart, manage to hit, there are three or four full stanzas that get spoken-to-the-beat, the movie vet’s drab acting proving only marginally better than his “singing.”

With so many hits to the Bergmans’ name (set to the music of such greats as Marvin Hamlisch, Michel Legrand, and Johnny Mandel), you’d think writer-director Ravetch could have found more and better ones than the handful his different kind of musical has to offer. (Audiences will likely only recognize the Oscar-winning “The Way We Were,” and possibly the Oscar-nominated “Pieces Of Dreams,” the latter from a long-forgotten movie that happens to have starred a 20something Forster.)

Scenic designer Tony Fanning’s attic set has a believably rustic, lived-in look, and Daniel Ionazzi lights it and Kate Bergh’s character-appropriate costumes quite gorgeously. Jonathan A. Burke’s sound design mix of vocals and instrumentals (performed by musical director/orchestrator Thomas Griep and his three-piece orchestra) is his accustomed professional best.

Jill Gold is production stage manager. Cate Cundiff is assistant stage manager. Amy Levinson is dramaturg.

Victoria and Franklin may have shared a lifetime of Chasing Mem’ries, but other than Tyne Daly’s performance, there’s nothing at all mem’rable about this Different Kind Of Musical. If this is different, I’ll take same-old any day.

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Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Through December 17. Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00. Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00. (No performance on Thanksgiving.) Reservations: 310 208-5454
www.geffenplayhouse.com

–Steven Stanley
November 16, 2017
Photos: Chris Whitaker

 

 

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