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Music men
Douglas J. Cohen gets a Gig at the Lyric

The Gig
Book, music, and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen. Based on the motion picture by Frank D. Gilroy. Orchestrations by Michael Gibson. Directed and choreographed by Stewart F. Lane. Musical direction by Steven Bergman. Set by Robert M. Russo. Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley. Lighting by Russ Swift. With Chip Phillips, Peter Edmund Haydu, Paul Farwell, Brian De Lorenzo, Peter A. Carey, Benjamin DiScipio, Brian Robinson, John Davin, Kathy St. George, and Elizabeth Asti. At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through November 16.

As a producer of the Tony-winning La Cage aux Folles and Thoroughly Modern Millie, Stewart F. Lane is no stranger to musicals based on movies. So itís natural that his path would cross that of Douglas J. Cohen, who has concocted two such entities: No Way To Treat a Lady, which was culled from a 1968 Rod Steiger film about a publicity-seeking serial killer, and The Gig, which is patterned after a 1985 movie written and directed by Frank D. Gilroy. The Lyric Stage Company of Boston produced the first last year. Now it takes on the latter, with producer Lane switching hats to direct. As with No Way, the result is enjoyably, if not brilliantly, Sondheimian and, at the Lyric, nicely sung.

Gilroy is best known for the Pulitzer-winning The Subject Was Roses. The Gig, however, jumps forward three decades from that 1940s-set familial tug-of-war to focus on a disparate group of middle-aged white New Yorkers who get together on Wednesday nights to play jazz. Spearheaded by a slightly smarmy used-car salesman, the line-up also includes a shy dentist, an uptight financial adviser, an older deli owner, a womanizing real-estate agent, and a Salieri-esque music teacher who wishes he were a clarinet-tooting Mozart. The film, and the musical, tell what happens when this cadre of amateurs get a real, if low-rent, gig at a fraying geriatric resort in the Catskills. The dynamic is further affected by a professional African-American bassist, who is brought in when the deli owner has to undergo surgery.

What The Gig has going for it is that the story easily incorporates music, and Cohen folds the screaming-horn sound into his Sondheim worship. The conceit is that the band members, who neither play nor carry instruments, scat their numbers while playing air sax, trumpet, clarinet, bass, drums, and piano. This can seem a little cute, but by and large it produces a vocal melange suggestive of a jazz outfit (albeit an upbeat, very white one) thatís backed by an unseen combo led by pianist and musical director Steven Bergman. Elsewhere, as in the accomplished opening number that introduces the characters ( " Trust me, sap/Itís first-rate crap, " warbles car salesman Marty to an imaginary customer), the Sondheim influence is mainlined.

With Gilroyís story squeezed into a musical-comedy format with room for the songs, plot and characters get painted in broad strokes. The group of men who have little in common but their shared fantasy of a musicianís life both bond and come apart in the Catskills. Thereís fishing and the amusingly dumpy bunk life provided by the proprietor of Paradise Manor, Abe Mitgang, who also functions as nightclub MC, telling hoary jokes and admonishing the band to " Play Nice " ó jazz-tinged waltzes rather than the real music. Meanwhile, financial adviser Jack, who has lied his way out of a Nantucket family vacation, keeps threatening to bolt. Sexually inexperienced Arthur meets a girl who turns out to be married; Gil, who has turned his back on a musical gift to hawk real estate for his father-in-law, romances a waitress and dreams again of a jazzmanís life. Music teacher Aaron has to face the unpleasant truth that in music, as the new bassist, Marshall, tells him, " devotion isnít enough. " And Marty gets punched by a has-been starís thuggish manager before the group are summarily fired for failing to be an adequate back-up band. In Cohenís rendering, all this is sketched in between numbers, a few of which ó including a vaudeville soft-shoe dream sequence in which Aaron leads the boys in a homage to " Benny Goodman " ó are pretty terrific.

Broadway-accustomed Lane proves adaptable to the Lyricís small stage, though he gets little help from Richard Russoís cumbersome revolving set, on which the characters, when not riffing, are trapped, in Laneís concept, in two tiers of cells that represent their regular lives. The actors manage to negotiate the Hollywood Squares set-up smoothly, and Russ Swiftís crisp lighting gussies it up. The cast, made up of local stage and cabaret stalwarts, is both unassumingly likable and in good voice. Chip Phillips is a sympathetic yet cheesy Marty, Brian De Lorenzo an intense if jaunty Aaron, and Benjamin DiScipio, whose baby-boy dentist character is the most comical, manages to be sweet and goofy. Kathy St. George gives a spunky, fragile performance as a toyed-with waitress, though sheís over the top as the badly bewigged recording star of yesteryear. And she and Elizabeth Asti harmonize nicely on the haunting " Time To Put the Toys Away, " which they sing as the band, pink-slipped for amateurism, face a different sort of music.

Issue Date: October 24 - 31, 2002
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