‘Breaking Up’ is hard to love, but the songs are fun
I’m pretty lukewarm about “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” the Neil Sedaka jukebox musical pulling the holiday shift at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. (It runs through Jan. 14.) On one hand, some of the singing is very good in this Good Company Players production. The comedy is often crisp and the production design is nice, especially the costumes.
On the other hand, the storyline is absurdly dumb, but that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. The narratives of most jukebox musicals are little more than flimsy excuses to string along a selection of well-known songs, in this case such Sedaka classics as “Lonely Nights,” “Where the Boys Are and “Next Door to an Angel.” Some musicals of this genre, such as “Mamma Mia” (a GCP offering coming soon to Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theatre), manage to feel clever and accomplished when those songs come together, as if the writers figured out how to put together a complicated puzzle. Others, like “Breaking Up,” offer plots that just sort of limp along.
Here’s a quick review rundown:
The timing: Why am I so late in reviewing “Breaking Up”? I got caught up in a glut of pre-Thanksgiving theater openings, then took a trip out of state myself. But there’s still a month to go in the run, so I wanted to get my thoughts out there.
The storyline: I’ll try to get this out of the way in three sentences. Oops, now it’s two sentences. Um, well, it’s set in 1960 and is about a woman named Marge who had planned to spend her honeymoon in a Catskills resort but got dumped at the altar, so she invites her friend Lois along, but then Marge falls for the resort headliner singer, a slick Elvis type named Del Delmonaco, while she ignores the obvious romantic vibes coming from the shy but utterly sweet handyman Gabe, all while the beleaguered widow resort owner, Esther, wonders if she could possibly live happily ever after with the resort’s amiable comedian, Harvey. Got that?
The direction and choreography: Steve Souza keeps things moving briskly and keeps the comic zingers coming, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of the material (the book is by Eric Jackson and Ben H. Winters).
The acting: Melanie Heyl is fun as Esther, the resort owner, and Kay Wilkins excels with a memorable best-friend brassiness as Lois. My favorite is an endearing Nicholas Nunez as Harvey, the comedian. He has a warm, hangdog sweetness to him that helps the romantic connection with Esther sparkle. Tim Smith has the shy thing down pat. Caitlyn Lopez has some nice moments, but she isn’t as strong in this role playing a sweet and sassy type as when I recently saw her play a harder-edged character in the recent “Carrie.” (She seems a little stiff at times as Marge, particularly when she’s singing; she needs to come across more relaxed on stage and look like she’s having more fun.) Steven San Sebastian has a challenge playing what is essentially an unlikable character; he makes a good effort at physically embracing the role but sometimes comes across as trying a little too hard.
The singing: Smith was in beautiful voice at the Saturday evening performance I attended. Lopez’s rendition of “Solitaire” ranged from powerful to unsatisfying — she needs more polish and consistency in terms of vocals and stage confidence. (But then she came through mightily with a very fine duet with Smith of “Laughter in the Rain,” showing impressive vocal potential.) Wilkins has a promising belt.
The ensemble: A fine group of dancers (Jenna Cabello, Jacob Cozzi, Brady Crenshaw, Alyssa Martin, Ryan McFarland, Liam Olson, Rebecca Packard and Brittany Smith) help give some oomph to the production. (One note: Crenshaw and McFarland have a tendency to look a little grim when they’re performing; they need to smile more.)
The design: Ginger Kay Lewis Reed’s 1960 costumes are a bright spot, as is David Pierce’s clever rotating set.
The nostalgia: It’s abundant, particularly for those in the sweet-spot age demographic that remember all those Sedaka songs. Younger folks might want to brush up with an Apple Music playlist.
The takeaway: “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” offers light-hearted, tuneful entertainment. If you get excited about a rousing rendition of “Love Will Keep Us Together,” it’s the show for you.
“Breaking Up is Hard to Do” runs through Jan. 14, Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave. Tickets range from $32-$60 depending on dinner packages.
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