Manhattan Theatre Club
John Patrick Shanley’s maiden voyage into the world of musicals finds him “communing loudly with his madcap side,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. With Romantic Poetry, the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning playwright casts aside the sober tone of recent works like Doubt. In fact, the musical’s tone closely resembles those of his early romantic comedies, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea and Italian-American Reconciliation, both of which featured kooky eccentrics who act out amorous impulses in ways that are by turn destructive and transcendent. But Shanley’s style here becomes, at times, too winking and cloying. It’s as if he’s been suffering from “repressed whimsy,” and created this confectionary mess of a musical in an effort to purge himself.
Shanley should stick to writing plays, said Linda Winer in Newsday. Song lyrics are not his strong suit, and his libretto is “incoherent, forced, and jauntily oblivious to the depths of its own awfulness.” On the surface, Poetry is “a musical about the need for love and poetry in a money-mad world.” Two newlyweds, Connie and Fred, fight primarily over Fred’s suppressed desire to be a poet (he’s a cell phone salesman). The play’s other couple is a reverse image of incompatibility: Frankie wants to own a deli, while his wife, Mary, dreams of being an artist. There’s also a convoluted subplot involving Connie’s two previous husbands. Throw in a disappointingly derivative score by Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls), and you have the makings of a bafflingly “terrible show.”
“It’s hard to know what Shanley intended,” said Alexis Greene in The Hollywood Reporter. There are songs that mock Long Island, and songs about the earnest desire to be an artist. They’re all equally “clumsy and unfunny.” The set looks like “a cross between Busby Berkeley and one of those resorts that offers heart-shaped Jacuzzis.” The cast, led by Emily Swallow and Ivan Hernandez, muddles through this mess with the “utmost professionalism and indomitable verve,” but there’s little it can do. Shanley fans should hope that Romantic Poetry passes “quietly and quickly into theatrical lore.”