How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
November 11, 2006
How to Save the World and Fine True Love in 90 Minutes, the new musical comedy by librettist/lyricist Jonathan Karp and composer Seth Weinstein, is timely and a lot of fun.
Miles Muldoon (Michael McEachran) works in the United Nations bookstore and harbors a crush on savvy, disinterested diplomat Violet Zipper (Nicole Ruth Snelson). Miles's kooky slacker work-best-friend Julie Lemmon (Anika Larsen), harbors the same kind of crush on him. Violet is having a fling with the mysterious, hunky "He" (also played by McEachran, who shines about 10 times more as He and has a lot more room to be big here), who is plotting a terrorist attack against the U.N.
Added to this, during an anti-melon demonstration, Miles is konked on the head with a melon and develops the power to read people's minds. (For what it's worth, I wasn't too amused when during the anti-melon demonstration, the chorus members came out holding fake melons and the female member of the group wore fake melon breasts and a melon butt—with no fake melon butt for the fellows. This is a smart enough production to not have to resort to this kind of humor.)
How to Save the World is not so much a comedy making light of terrorism as it is a romance, though it does tap into the fact that many of us live today with a sense of constant fear, and so does Miles. He's afraid to really make a play for Violet, and he's generally afraid of life. The story is a classic boy-wants-girl, girl-wants-other-boy, boy-is-wanted-by-other-girl-who-he-doesn't-want-or-does-he? The character He is a sexy bad boy, but in this case instead of being some kind of street hood, he happens to be, oops, a terrorist. Terrorism really only comes into play here plotwise the way any other catastrophe or evil plot (murder, theft) would have pre-9/11, though the stakes are bigger because it is a global catastrophe at risk.
The show employs a kind of Greek chorus (Stephen Bienskie, Natalie Joy Johnson, Kevin Smith Kirkwood), who have an adorable presence: They start off singing behind Miles during his opening speech, and continue to show up during various other performers' songs, holding hands and swaying in the background, singing throughout various parts of the show, and playing different roles throughout the play, which is charming.
Some of the dialogue tries a bit too hard to be au courant/smart, such as a dig about one character fearing being adopted by Madonna, but for the most part the jokes are truly funny, as when Miles's introduces himself: "I am not a potato—I am a man in search of a couch."
There are 16 songs during this 90-minute show—it's a true musical and the songs are very naturally interspersed. There is never a moment that feels like a stop-action where "now we sing." Kudos to Karp and Weinstein for making the musical bits blend so organically with the book.
Karp's lyrics contain laugh-getting lines: "I'm afraid of everything / afraid of drugs, afraid of guns / afraid of Barbara Bush's sons"; "Oh, God, why are all the good men unconscious / where is my prince, I've kissed enough frogs / why did you give him ears when he only hears what he has to say"; and "He's as dangerous as sin / with daggers of stubble on his chin / he's a man on a mission / who knows every position."
The cast sings well, in particular Kirkwood (who can elongate notes in the gospel tradition to the point where one just watches and listens thinking, "wow") and Larsen. Larsen's voice is so clear and so pretty that I felt happy when she got to deliver a power-ballad tribute to Celine Dion. This was not only funny, but it really gave Larsen a chance to show her stuff. There's a difference between actors who can sing well enough to sing onstage and actors who are singers, and Larsen is one heck of a singer.
Everyone here is doing good work and How to Save the World and Fine True Love in 90 Minutes is a fun night out.