One night, five restaurants, and fifteen characters sum up Five Course Love, the tasty yet not entirely filling new musical onstage in Miracle Theatre's intimate upstairs room.
Directed by David Arisco, the Actors' Playhouse ensemble of Oscar Cheda, Janet Dacal, and Christopher A. Kent is the hardest-working trio in showbiz. And they make this breezy 80-minute-no-intermission romp very, very funny.
The show is slight, but hey, not everything is Company. Written by Gregg Coffin, the action begins with a sub-Sondheim promise in "A Very Single Man," an Eighties-style New York number about a guy searching for love. The melody is interestingly jagged, and though it recalls David Shire more than Stephen Sondheim, it alludes to a musical that Five Course Love fails to serve. That song is the show's best, and it happens as Matt, a lonely bloke stuck in traffic, dreams that an evening arranged through a dating service will bring the love of his life. But the blind date does not turn out as planned: The sushi bar he is looking for has become a beer-and-ribs joint called Dean's Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats. What a mouthful! So, too, is the evening that follows. Couple after amorous couple and one fun, kinky trio try to get together and never quite make it.
Five Course Love is a grazing buffet of musical vignettes, each as fluffy as a cream puff that spoiler alert returns to Matt's plight at evening's end. Each restaurant comes complete with an ethnic waiter, all roles with which the shape-shifting Cheda has a ball. Then there is music to match: country and western for the Texas joint, followed by vaguely Italian pop for dinner at Trattoria Pericolo, Bavarian folk dances with a nod to famed choreographer Bob Fosse for Der Schlumpfwinkel Speiseplatz (which feels a lot like Dab Haus in South Beach), fake Tex-Mex, a wink to Zorro, a touch of the Rawhide theme for Ernesto's Cantina, and a forkful of doo-wop via American Graffiti for the Star-Lite Diner.
You cannot fault the score for failing to include a single original note, since the whole affair is decidedly eclectic by design. But by the time we get to the Mexican scene, any restaurant plot is gone in all but the name. No matter. The conceit works in the same way it did on The Carol Burnett Show every scene could pass for a typical vehicle for Burnett, Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway. That Arisco's direction of Cheda, Dacal, and Kent in these skits recalls such greats is to everyone's credit.
Kevin Wallace's musical direction is swift. Gene Seyffer's scenic design is brilliant a low-budget kaleidoscope that never fails to dazzle. Ditto Mary Lynn Izzo's costumes, which must get some of the credit for the cast's giddy transformations. The scene at Dean's Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que Texas Eats is a hoot. Matt's blind date is a very hot blond named Barbie, though the matchup is really a mixup: This Barbie is waiting for her Ken. Until she realizes her mistake, the adorably dorky Matt and the audience are teased with a song about men's endowments that makes the most of the gun-shape menus and the throbbing two-step beat. Sadly for Matt, Barbie goes from "You look mighty fine in that pocket protector" to "I loved you when I thought your name was Ken."
Then, faster than you can change channels from CMT to HBO just in time to catch The Sopranos, the scene magically morphs into Trattoria Pericolo, where a philandering mob wife is about to get caught on a date with a reckless made man. There is a gun of course. And pasta. And wine. What can you do? And because Five Course Love is an equal-opportunity-stereotype musical, the Mafiosi Italians are followed by seriously S&M Germans, Mexican bandits, and a road-show cast of Grease all in the same city, maybe the same neighborhood, but who's counting? Not me. I was too busy enjoying the opening-night acting to notice any creaking in the book or the score. Sweetest of all about Five Course Love is the show's unassuming quality. True, it is basically a cabaret act that would work better by serving drinks and snacks. But it is silly to quibble about a show that sets out to do nothing more than amuse and succeeds so spectacularly.
Janet Dacal is delectable as the five heroines, from the blond Texan bombshell and the swarthy Italian babe to the sweet bespectacled beauty Kitty who shyly pines for a boy who is just too cool. Her hot-chili Rosalinda, complete with a cruel Frida Kahlo unibrow, alone is worth the price of a ticket. But her over-the-top, lash-wielding, leatherette-and-pointed-pink-bustier-clad dominatrix Gretchen is unforgettable. And "Gretchen's Lament" reveals Dacal's vocals at their best. Cheda changes accents as fast as costumes and brings a surprisingly sweet high lyric baritone to the boastful Dean, the cowering Carlo, the curly-top Heimlich, and others. But best of all is Kent; vocally resplendent and dramatically just right whether channeling Larry Blyden as a nerd with glasses or bringing new meaning to the term hot grease as Gino the horny mobster. There is unexpected vulnerability in his clueless Clutch at the Star-Lite Diner toward the end, and a nice emotional payoff as Matt returns still hopeful after his failed blind date.
Five Course Love is a light meal. But maybe the love is real after all.
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