The new Harvey Fierstein/John Bucchino musical “A Catered Affair” is a heartfelt little gem, a lovingly subdued ode to real emotions and genuine feelings. If, however, the predictable evening doesn’t succeed as compelling musical theater there are many distinct charms to be savored from John Doyle’s intimate production. Here is a decidedly risky venture for Broadway, a musical that relies upon sincerity and simplicity, where the music underscores the action instead of overwhelming it, moving the story along with quiet introspection.
Fierstein’s book for the bittersweet tale captures the spirit of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1955 teleplay that subsequently became a Bette Davis film with a less successful screenplay by Gore Vidal. The story is a sentimental tear jerker about the ramifications of a Bronx housewife’s attempt to give her only daughter the elaborate wedding she never had, even if the bride wants to elope. Fierstein has fleshed out the part of the uncle and made him gay giving himself a meaty role in the process.
The melodic songs by John Bucchino, best known for his cabaret work, are weaved beautifully into the texture of the production instead of standing out or punctuating the action. “Partners,” the first musical number, a subtle reflective song, doesn’t come until almost 10 minutes into the evening and you won’t leave the theater humming any of the tunes. But the score, nonetheless, enhances the emotional impact of the staging with delicate shadings that steer ever so carefully from full blown sentimentality.
Conflicts arise for this middle class family, when the parents, Aggie (Faith Prince) and Tom (Tom Wopat), a taxi driver, learn that their only son has been killed in the war. When they receive a small government check as compensation for his death, Aggie wants to use the money to give their neglected daughter Janey (Leslie Kritzer) a first rate wedding. Tom would like to invest the money in his one time opportunity to buy a larger share of his taxi medallion, which he has long dreamed of doing. Ralph (Matt Cavenaugh), Janey’s finance would like to stick to the original plan, a quick wedding with a cross country honeymoon trip to California during his upcoming vacation.
The cast shines with restrained emotionally felt performances that are the highlights of the evening. Faith Prince’s visceral work as the unhappy mother, who bares her soul with stirring urgency in the well written role is the heart of the evening.
Everything about the production is tasteful and small but with poignant impact that warms you like a fine wine. As we go to press the charming musical led the field
with 12 nominations when the Drama Desk Award nominations where announced this morning at the Friars Club in New York. Look for major competition from the brilliant musical adaptation of “Adding Machine,” which scored 9 nominations and is now playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
“A Catered Affair” opened on April 17, 2008 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200 or at the box office.