The Morning After / The Night Before
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 23, 2010
Musicals are tough to put together. Where a conventional play has to worry about arranging the two-dimensional jigsaw pieces of character development, pacing, and plot, along with an occasional joke, assembling a musical is like doing so with the additional dimension that songs entail. It's a big reason why there is usually more than one name attached to the writing of a musical. In this regard, The Morning After / The Night Before, an entry in this year's FringeNYC Festival playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is an achievement for Jeff Bienstock, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the show. He uses the convention of a vicious hangover and the ensuing mental blackout to weave a tale of mystery regarding the events of the night before. It's an enjoyable, if somewhat cliched, set-up, that enjoys varying degrees of success, despite some missteps.
High school music teacher Todd (Jed Resnick) awakens to discover his best friend Cynthia (Michelle K. Moore) in bed with him. Assuming that his girlfriend, Ginger (Aly Viny)—in the other room making breakfast—won't be too pleased, he freaks out and races Ginger off to work so that he can figure out what happened. He attempts to recall the night, leading to a series of flashbacks assisted by various friends who stop by, also seeking information regarding the night before.
The music of the show is certainly its strongest asset. There are a number of songs that go a long way to adding dimension to characters, particularly a duet between two of the girls complaining about their significant others and their love of their jobs. Some songs go on a little too long for the amount of character and plot development contained—I often found myself wanting the numbers to get to the point—but they are well written and performed.
Conversely, while the actors do an almost universally excellent job with their roles, particularly Jason Collins as Rob, the characters themselves are flat and their relationships seem overly forced or convenient. It is a little too sitcom-y in how tidy everything works out.
This isn't to say that the show is bad. I loved the fake-out with what looked like an intermission that was quickly dismissed, and the jokes work pretty well. It was just a little too easy, particularly the central love story which made me reflect on the horrible role that the tropes of fiction hold on male romantic characters. Things end up too conveniently, people break up just in time to find themselves with a new lover and special brownies are suggested and all of a sudden are ready to eat (which, given the nonlinear nature of the story, would be easy to handle a little more plausibly). As neatly as this play wants to wrap things up, it doesn't work that way in real life, even when it seems to, and I wish more attention was paid to the cynical side of things, especially since that's where much of the effective devices for humor derives from.
There's a really good framework of a show here. Good songs, great set-up, but it would end up being more relatable with a little rougher conclusion, emotionally.