nytheatre.com review by Pun Bandhu
August 15, 2006
Why does Perfect Harmony feel so tired and clichéd? It has a Broadway-caliber cast, '80s hits re-arranged to include bee-bopping doo-wop, and zany characters that include a shy girl with Tourette and a lisping nerd with lockjaw. Yet jokes land with a thud and the songs never reach the exhilarating heights that more experienced groups like Rockappella or Sweet Honey in the Rock are able to produce with a cappella arrangements.
The musical deals with the issue of enduring friendship in the face of artistic differences. Two a cappella groups, a boys' group and a girls' group from the same high school, compete against each other in the regional and national championships. The girls are led by a prissy cheerleader type who slips into malapropisms from time to time. She is challenged by a "Jesus-Freak" who wants the group to incorporate sexy dance moves into their routine. The boys group includes two economically privileged boys who are friends but can't talk directly with each other because of a family scandal involving their grandfathers. One, inspired by Beethoven, is trying to re-invent a cappella by introducing dissonant noises and notes. The other wants to preserve the art form's barbershop traditions. Both teams threaten to deteriorate as they near the championships.
It is a shame that conceiver and director Andrew Grosso doesn't allow the two teams to interact with each other very often, as I thought that there existed the potential for more interesting story lines. Much of the zaniness of the characters seems put on—the comedy doesn't arise out of real situations but out of a need, it seemed to me, to make these characters as wacky as possible. As a result, I didn't care about many of the characters and I found the story lacking in heart. The fact that the premise—a mockumentary about awkward high school students competing in an a cappella competition—mirrors that of a certain Broadway mockumentary about awkward junior high school students competing in a Spelling Bee competition—does not help it to feel fresh and original.
There are moments which are entertaining, especially hearing well-loved pop songs sung a cappella (arranged by musical director Alec Duffy). Young teens might enjoy this cutesy and broad piece more than I did (although be warned that there are brief allusions to a variety of sexual situations such as incest and octogenarian homosexuality). Adults can stay amused by watching the very game actors. The ones who take the most risks are the most successful, like Jeanine Serralles (playing an Eastern European student whose parents died in a tragic tractor incident as well as a talent agent who has her sights on the hunky football jock), Marina Squerciati (the Tourette girl and one of the few characters we care for), and David Barlow (the most chameleonic of the cast, who plays both the nerd and the sexed-up brother of the aforementioned Eastern European girl). In general, however, this musical comedy comes across as trying way too hard.