Curvy Widow – Westside Theatre/Upstairs, New York

Nancy Opel in Curvy Widow at the Westside Theatre/Upstairs, New York. Picture: Matthew Murphy

Curvy Widow continues at Westside Theatre/Upstairs, New York.

Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩

“I’m making getting laid a medical directive,” the psychiatrist tells the recently widowed Bobby Goldman near the start of Curvy Widow. And his prescription pretty much establishes the sometimes engaging, sometimes irritating tone for this new Off-Broadway musical comedy.

Following the doctor’s orders, Bobby, at age 55 and after years of happiness with her late husband Jim, a renowned writer, ventures into the internet dating scene, using the screen name ‘Curvy Widow’. Bobby is no shrinking violet; she is herself a successful career woman, the owner of a construction company. Still, the prospect is daunting.

She does, however, score a one-nighter – complete with orgasm –with her first hook-up and eventually becomes quite proficient at the dating game, although the guys are rarely prizes.

She finally does connect with quite a nice, sincere fellow, recently separated from his wife, but when he asks Bobby to move in with him, she declines. In a fairly predictable but still brave conclusion, she has learned to enjoy her newly-found independence too much to give it up. Final blackout.

Featuring music and lyrics by Drew Brody, the enterprise delivers a host of perky ditties and ballads with a contemporary musical theatre sound that tends to flirt with melody rather than embrace it.

The orchestrations and arrangements by Wayne Barker for the three offstage musicians – piano (played by musical director Andrew Sotomayor), drums and cello – do help, however, in filling out the tenuous melody lines.

The lyrics as well as the dialogue tend to be ultra-graphic, as it depicts Bobby’s internet searches; her varied dates and sexual encounters; her earnest conversations with her three long-time gal pals, and the contents of a sex website with its photos of male genitalia.

Some of it is funny, some of it simply tries too hard to be candid and forthright. One interlude in which Bobby is suddenly inflicted with unbearable vaginal pain during sex and then visits a series of doctors seeking a cure develops into an infectiously syncopated production number entitled ‘Gynecologist Tango’, but might best be left to medical journals.

The show, which has had mountings in two regional theatres before hitting New York, is notable on several counts.

Like its heroine, the writer of the book is named Bobby Goldman, and we’re told in her programme bio, “this show is Bobby’s story”. She is the widow of writer James Goldman, whose works range from both the play and Oscar-winning screenplay The Lion in Winter to the book for the musical masterwork Follies. Goldman died in 1998.

The piece furthermore gives Nancy Opel, a long-time fixture on the Broadway stage, the chance to show off her formidable talents as a mature leading lady. She makes a lot of the more questionable episodes palatable, imbuing them with a knowing comic edge.

Along with her liquid, full-throated singing, Opel also gives Bobby more than a hint of heart, and is probably most affecting early on, delivering a touching ballad entitled ‘Turn the Page’.

With a touch of Sondheim-like perspicacity, it’s probably the show’s best song, as it describes the need to move on after the sudden death of her husband.

Opel gets first-rate support from her six acting colleagues. Adroitly taking on the smorgasbord of men in Bobby’s life are Ken Land, Alan Muraoka and Christopher Shyer.

Andrea Bianchi, Elizabeth Ward Land and Aisha de Haas credibly portray Bobby’s gal pals and others. And in addition to filling out multiple roles, the six handle their back-up vocals and solos as well as the occasional choreography (by Marcos Santana) with verve.

Director Peter Flynn’s staging smartly establishes the script’s various locales on Rob Bissinger’s good-looking unit set, which neatly shifts from Bobby’s upscale married domicile to the downtown loft she inhabits in her widowhood.

You can admire Curvy Widow for tackling the curves life can throw a woman as she moves through middle age, the yearning to still be treated as a full-fledged human being.

You can also wish that it had done so with a little more grace and perhaps even a bit more reticence. Too much information can simply be too much information.

Ron Cohen

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