Off-Broadway Review: THE GOODBYE GIRL (J2 Spotlight Musical Theatre Company at Theatre Row)

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by Paulanne Simmons on May 15, 2023

in Theater-New York


The 1977 film The Goodbye Girl, written by Neil Simon and directed by Herbert Ross, was the first romantic comedy to earn over $100 million at the box office. So it should come as no surprise that it didn’t take long for Simon to turn it into a musical.

With lyrics by David Zippel and music by Marvin Hamlisch, The Goodbye Girl opened on Broadway on March 4, 1993. By this time, the original director, Gene Saks, had been fired during the Chicago tryouts and replaced by Michael Kidd. That didn’t help much. The musical closed on August 5 of the same year.

But The Goodbye Girl wouldn’t die. In 1994 it was staged at the Marriott Theatre in Chicagoland, somewhat modified by Zippel. And in 1997, the show opened in London, this time with new lyrics by Don Black. None of the versions ever received what one might call favorable reviews.

But somehow the show is back again. This time it’s in the hands of Zippel himself, who directs for The J2 Spotlight Musical Theatre Company. It even has in its cast Sierra Boggess and Santino Fontana as the unwilling couple, Paula and Elliot, who are forced into co-habitation when Paula’s ex-boyfriend sublets their apartment to Elliot without telling him she’s still living there with her daughter, Lucy (Lena Josephine Marano).

Zippel doesn’t have much experience directing, certainly not musicals. But you don’t have to be a director to know purchases from Macy’s are not just stuffed in a bag but are carefully wrapped, and that watching a present being unwrapped should increase audience suspense, and that a singer who is trying to win a little girl’s approval should actually look at her while he’s making his plea. Zippel’s amateurish staging has no sense of presentation. And the design elements look cheap. If there were ever an Off-Off-Off-Broadway show, this is it.

As far as the music goes, Hamlisch’s score needs much more than piano, drums and bass. And it would be nice if the singers understood harmony when performing together. It would be even nicer if they didn’t sound so shrill most of the time. And the great Christopher Siebert playing a wacky director was way too big for this space; did he not get a note that this was Theatre Row and not The Gershwin? Indeed, very little of the acting is even mildly compelling or believable. Elliot’s scenes with the pre-teen Lucy seem much more loving than any with her mother, played by Boggess, who couldn’t rise above the material, resorting mostly to schtick.

Fontana has tested positive for COVID, and is out for the entire sold-out run. He was replaced by his understudy, Dan DeLuca, who sounded tinny, clipped and small. Fontana could have made it somewhat more bearable but it would be generous to imagine he could have saved the show. One would think that a revival of a flop would underscore its merits. Instead, Zippel actually took lemonade and turned it into a lemon.

photos courtesy of J2 Spotlight

The Goodbye Girl
The J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company
Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St.
run time: two hours 15 minutes, with one intermission
ends on May 21, 2023
for tickets and waitlist, visit J2 Spotlight

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