How Deep Is The Ocean?
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
July 14, 2012
How Deep is the Ocean?, the sweet new musical by jazz artist Peter Cincotti and his playwright sister Pia, is something of a rarity in the New York Musical Theatre Festival: it's a slight little show that actually knows its limits. It doesn't attempt to reach the stratosphere of high art, it doesn't try to parody, satirize, or comment on other musicals or society, it doesn't falsely regard itself as the next Sunday in the Park with George, and it's certainly not glib, like many of the other NYMF shows I've seen in my handful of years reviewing the festival. It merely tries to entertain without pretense—and it does that in spades.
There isn't any self-deprecating humor either, thankfully and wisely, because this is the kind of work, with a silly, outlandish plot, that can easily fall in the "look how cute we're being" trap. The hero is Rob (Eric Leviton), a slovenly New Jersey-based pool guy obsessed with the wonders of chlorine. Summer is beach season at the Jersey Shore, but this little corner of ocean has become too polluted and unsafe for visitors. It's up to Rob and his new blend of essential chemicals to save the day—except that his villainous former business partner Andy (Aaron Ramey) has ideas up his sleeve to win fame, fortune, and Rob's wife Jackie (Michelle Federer).
Mr. Cincotti's score is simple and clever jazzy musical theater material, well-sung by the cast of 12. Ms. Cincotti's book resists the painful self-awareness and self-congratulatory nature of many new musicals, and she creates a strangely compelling story, with a villain you despise and an unlikely hero you know will save the day. There are a few questionable aspects, namely the characters' ages, but nothing majorly distracting. Excellently paced by directors Jeremy Dobrish and Gina Rattan, I'd be interested in seeing the piece without an intermission, which I think would help the conclusion seem a bit less rushed.
The three lead performances are quite winning; Leviton is a good-natured underdog, Federer gives depth to a put-upon wife, and the golden-voiced Ramey is a cunning, two-faced psychopath. And the ensemble members (Amanda Bruton, Anthony Festa, Joseph Ryan Harrington, Kevin Reed, Sandy Rosenberg, Corey Scheys, Michael St. John, and Darryl Winslow) deliver well-defined performances. In crucial cameo roles, LaVon Fisher-Wilson (as Rob's mother's ghost) and the (spoiler alert) uncredited, unbilled Tony Danza (as himself) bring down the house.
The designs are simple, as you'd expect for a NYMF production. Edward Pierce has created a small, inventive set, nicely in tune with Zach Blane's coolly colored lighting and Miodrag Guberinic's character-defining costumes. Wendy Seyb's choreography craftily keeps the action flowing, and Or Matias leads a tight four-member band.
Ultimately, How Deep is the Ocean? is a perfect show for the uncomfortably hot days we've been experiencing of late: it's a winning, well-intentioned diversion that doesn't go any further than it should.