Review by Elyse Trevers
For people of a certain age, a single image epitomizes the movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” written by Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker and directed by Mazursky. It depicts four obviously naked, attractive people sitting in bed together, all clutching a sheet up to their necks. Wasn’t that the movie about wife-swapping?
Turns out my vague recollections of the movie weren’t quite accurate.
Now over 50 years later, the movie has been adapted into a musical with a book by Jonathan Marc Sherman, music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Sheik and Amanda Green. The New Group’s off-Broadway adaptation at The Pershing Square Signature Center tells of a couple who spend an enlightening weekend in an Esalen – style retreat. Bob, a filmmaker (Joel Perez,) and his wife (lovely Jennifer Damiano) discover themselves and share honestly and openly. “Say what you feel and do what you want” are the lessons of the weekend.
Shortly afterward, Bob puts them into practice, by having a quick affair with a woman during his business trip to San Francisco. He returns home feeling guilty so he confesses to Carol who surprisingly accepts his affair, noting that it’s okay since it was purely physical. In fact, their conversation seems to ignite their passion for one another. Later she has an affair with her tennis coach.
The two share their experiences with their best friends, Ted (Michael Zegen) and his wife Alice (Ana Nogueira.) Ted is more astonished at Bob’s confession than the actual deed whereas Alice is appalled at the infidelities. Ultimately, after therapy, Alice decides that she doesn’t want to be left out and the two couples go to Vegas with the understanding that they will share partners.
Much of the beginning of the musical deals with Bob and Carol at the retreat. As the couple experiences the yoga, the 24-hour group share, and the massages, we aren’t quite sure if the show wants to be serious or sarcastic.
The wonderful singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega serves as the “Band Leader,” the narrator as well as the voice of minor characters. Her gentle dulcet sounds work effectively as she channels the group leader and therapists.
After the weekend, the dynamics between Bob and Carol have changed, yet the characterizations of the couple remain bland and, quite frankly, boring. The two couples could easily have been interchanged.
The four cast members are attractive but the characterization of Alice is the most interesting. Alice is disapproving, so she actually has some spark. As her husband, nerdy Ted is played by Zegen (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s husband.) He’s humorous in his discomfort when he tries to make love to Alice who resists his advances.
One of the highlights of the 1969 movie is the Bacharach’s and Hal David’s song “What The World Needs Now is Love.” The songs in the musical by Sheik, composer of “Spring Awakening” are far less memorable. Much of the music is indistinguishable and lulling – like spa music.
The fashions (costume design by Jeff Mashie) and the stage design
(Derek McLane ) which consists of a few pieces of modular furniture, feel familiar. There are a few extras touches to reflect the time period. Carol sits in bed reading the self-help book, I’m OK, You’re OK.
Under the uninspiring direction of Scott Elliott, the actual musical lacks spark. Running short of two hours with no intermission, it still seems long. The show doesn’t make us care about the characters, not does it completely mock them. By the end, the four are in bed together, having removed all their clothing. They recreate the iconic movie scene and look somewhat uneasy. They weren’t the only uneasy ones in the theater.
So either parody the material or play it straight. Otherwise it seems pointless. The musical could have been fun if it took a side: either really mock the times or seriously embrace them. I think…no, I mean, I feel like “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” was a disappointment.