Los Angeles Theater Review: SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE: THE MUSICAL (The Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Jesse Herwitz on June 4, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

SLEEPY IN SEATTLE

In the city of Seattle, Sam is still coping with the loss of his wife who died one year ago leaving behind a pre-adolescent son, Jonah, for him to raise on his own. In Baltimore, Annie isn’t ready to give up on the storybook romance she is longing for, but agrees to marry her lukewarm boyfriend Walter after he proposes to her on Christmas Eve. Jonah, taking his father’s love life into his own hands, decides to Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - THE MUSICAL at Pasadena Playhouse.phone an on air ‘Love Doctor’ and tell her that his Christmas wish is for his father to find a new woman to love. And guess who – on the other side of the continent and eating one potato chip at a time – is listening in to her dream romance form?

Sound familiar? It should. The 1993 chick-flick Sleepless in Seattle was a huge hit, cementing Tom Hanks as a star and continuing the Nora Ephron/Meg Ryan connection for at least one more film, the 1998 romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail. The time around, however, there is no Hanks, no Ryan, and a whole lot of singing. That is because the updated version, now appearing at the Pasadena Playhouse, is a musical.

Following Jonah’s (Joe West) phone call, Sam (Tim Martin Gleason) becomes a national sensation receiving bags of mail from women (and some men) who are searching for the perfect balance of sensitivity and security that Sam seems to offer. Back in Baltimore, Annie (Chandra Lee Schwartz), who is a print journalist, gets Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - THE MUSICAL at Pasadena Playhouse.assigned to follow the Sleepless in Seattle story by her best friend/editor Becky (Sabrina Sloan). Becky’s motives however include forging a letter to Sam asking him to meet her (Annie) at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day.  The musical, like the film, follows the two month interim leading up to that moment.

“We’re not like the movies,” Annie proclaims.

And that in itself presents the challenge for any producer adapting a film into a musical. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Catch Me If You Can and Priscilla Queen of the Desert have all been recently staged with varying levels of success. Sheldon Epp’s Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical with a book by Jeff Arch, (who also co-wrote the original screenplay), music by Beth Toth and lyrics by Sam Forman, is the newest of the bunch attempting to do what the movie did and accomplishing it in a limited way.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - THE MUSICAL at Pasadena Playhouse.The cast is very good with Gleason and Schwartz delivering solid singing and acting performances. As good as they were, however, Mr. Epps’ decision to have them play Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan hinders their chance to really offer unique interpretations of the roles. Sabrina Sloan has a voice that will likely put goose bumps on your arms in numbers like “Remember” and “Don’t Give Up on Cary” and the young West lives up to a role that is essentially the heart of this show. Likewise, the choral ensemble sings well and – although mainly used for expository purposes — we are in an airport, this bar is seedy, New York is wonderful — is choreographed nicely by Spencer Liff.

Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - THE MUSICAL at Pasadena Playhouse.Still, there are some things are just beyond the performer’s control. This show suffers from two missteps, one of which that prevents it from being truly satisfying. The first is that the pacing is somewhat lopsided. While the first half lingers perhaps one father/son song too long, the second moves almost too fast, glossing over many of the minor details (What happens to Sam’s new girlfriend Victoria? What happens to Annie’s fiancé Walter?) and moving quickly over the major ones (one minute Annie is willing to give it all up for her perfect romance and a song later she is giving up on her Cary Grant forever).

The bigger problem, however, is that none of the music (though played well-enough by conductor David O and his ten-person orchestra) really stays with you. Schwartz’ second half “Look at Me Now” is gorgeous and Todd Bounopane and West’s “What Jesse Herwitz' Stage and Cinema review of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE - THE MUSICAL at Pasadena Playhouse.She Wants to Hear” is an absolute show-stopper, but for the most part the songs are borderline memorable with lyrics (“I practice yoga, tai-chi…” and “We’re going to be rock stars”) that often lack any real originality.

The original film was enduring because above all it took chances on a romantic comedy where the lead actors don’t meet until the last scene of the film. The musical takes all the same chronological steps, but does so in a much safer way, thus reducing some, though not all, of its bite.

Overall, Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical is occasionally charming and captures the story of the film well, but unfortunately not the heart. In other words, you may enjoy the show but won’t be swept away by it.

photos by Jim Cox

Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical
The Pasadena Playhouse
in association with David Shor.
scheduled to end on June 23, 2013
for tickets, call at (626) 356-7529, or visit http://www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org

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