Saturday, May 6, 2017

3. (2017-2018): Review: MARRY HARRY (seen May 5, 2017)

“When Harry Met Sherri”

Marry Harry, the new show at the York, is the kind of sweet, romantic, Off-Broadway musical that, if there were a movie in which sweet, romantic lovers attend a sweet, romantic, Off-Broadway musical, Marry Harry would be the one. It’s corny, contrived, conventional, and clichéd, but like most innutritious fast food (it’s over in 80 minutes), it goes down without heavy chewing.

David Spadora, Lenny Wolpe. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Originally seen at the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival, and world premiered at New Jersey’s American Theatre Group in 2014, Marry Harry gives you the impression you’ve tasted it or something like it many times before: the cutesy boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl story; the controlling, disapproving parents; and the local color with a mild ethnic flavor. All seem borrowed from other sources. Even the singing, dancing, three-member chorus—the Village Voices—usually dressed in black, Fosse-like duds and derbies but continually intruding in different guises (the fun costuming is by Tyler M. Holland), seems comfortably familiar.
Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, Claire Saunders. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
All would be forgiven if only Jennifer Robbins’s book weren’t quite so simplistic (one of its biggest laughs depends on the mispronunciation of “vegan”), and Dan Martin (music) and Michael Biello's (lyrics) otherwise sprightly score so generic. Happily, Eric Svejcar, piano/conductor, Mercedes Beckman, flute/clarinet, and Robin Burdulis, percussion, play the score with zest and the singers make it zing.
Robin Skye, Morgan Cowling, David Spadora. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Marry Harry takes place in the East Village at 5th Street and Avenue A, a neighborhood charmingly encapsulated in James Morgan’s enchantingly cartoonish set, nicely lit by Paul Miller, suggesting a Red Grooms installation of shop fronts, signage, and tenement housing. On one side is Cudicini’s, a typical, calico-tableclothed Italian restaurant, on the other Zoya’s, a downtown bridal shop with an uptown reputation.
Jesse Manocherian, Claire Saunders, Ben Chavez. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Cudicini’s, there since 1967, belongs to Big Harry (Lenny Wolpe), who runs it with his handsome son, Little Harry (David Spadora); they live upstairs. Big Harry, always seeking a gimmick to make the place profitable, wants to begin offering food from different nations every night, an idea Little Harry disparages. Cue the chorus, dressed as servers and carrying a variety of colorful dishes as Big Harry and they sing “Harry’s Way,” its lyrics loaded with international meals.
David Spadora, Claire Saunders, Jesse Manocherian, Lenny Wolpe, Ben Chavez. Photo: Carol Rosegg. 
Little Harry, though, considers his cook’s job beneath him and has applied to become a sous-chef at the high-class eatery Felidia’s, run by Lidia Bastianich, “the Queen of Italian cuisine.” Bring on the chorus, this time in white derbies, ruffs, and tinted glasses, celebrating “Lidia” from second-story windows. Little Harry’s ambitions, though, give Big Harry emotional indigestion.
Claire Saunders, Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Enter almost-a-bride Sherri (Morgan Cowling, lovely voice, gorgeous face), a Wharton MBA alum, teetering (like Little Harry) on the border of 30, who describes her premarital condition in “Almost.” She’s accompanied by her Park Avenue, ultra-controlling, WASPY mother, Francine (Robin Skye, nailing her entitlement), with whom she lives. Their quest: a bridal gown from Zoya’s. Francine gets the funniest song, “Thirty,” about Sherri’s need to get married soon because “your eggs are almost fried.” Guess what the chorus represents now.
Jesse Manocherian, Lenny Wolpe, David Spadora, Ben Chavez, Claire Saunders. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Within a few minutes Sherri’s fiancé disappoints her, the marriage is off, Sherri and Little Harry meet cute, Cupid shoots his arrow, and by the next morning the youngsters have been engaged in both the physical and nuptial senses. “Marry Me” and “Elope” cover some of this ground, and Sherri wins her disgruntled future father-in-law’s approval with a business plan for selling his biscotti. “Nonnina’s Biscotti” offers the chorus as Italian grandmas carrying baking utensils. It's pretty funny, for what it is.
Claire Saunders, Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
With step one of the recipe concluded, boy-meets-girl, we continue with steps two and three whereby boy loses and gets girl. This being the kind of script where people break their engagements during the day and become engaged to a total stranger the same night, we can excuse the alacrity with which the plot races to its foregone conclusion.
Lenny Wolpe, Morgan Cowling, David Spadora. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The Village Voices (Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, and Claire Saunders), invisible to the others, spice this musical dish with their comic appearances in different costumes (including bridal gowns and veils!) but some may find them funnier in their aspirations than their execution. Veterans Wolpe and Skye are amusingly obdurate (thankfully, the plot excludes any middle-aged hanky-panky), and Spadora and Sherri do nicely by the lovers.
Ben Chavez, Claire Saunders, Jesse Manocherian, Robin Skye. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Thanks to an able cast and Bill Castellino’s (Cagney) nimble direction and choreography, Marry Harry is a lightweight, edible, 80-minute pasta fazool that makes the most of its high-calorie ingredients. Just don't confuse it with brainfood.


The York Theatre Company
The Theater at Saint Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Ave., NYC

Through May 21