Review: The Most Beautiful Room in New York
Critic: Howard Steven Frydman
“The Most Beautiful Room in New York” is an ultra sophisticated new musical about the steaming hot, heavily creamed, spicy and sweet, whirling dervish of the New York culinary Business- where chefs hunger for critical acclaim and Michelin 4 stars! Currently being produced at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York”, has book and lyrics by Adam Gopnik and music by David Shire, and is directed by Long Wharf Theaters Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein.
This foodie based musical is basically about family- think ala the Waltons- the Seavers – the Jetsons, the Tanners from Full House- no? – ok ok “The Addams Family”! Here we meet the Kaplan family, they run “TABLE” restaurant (the “La” went missing a long time ago) located in Union Square – prime NYC “Restaurant Row” real estate- hmmm?? La Familia – Father and Executive Chef – David (recently onboard Matt Bogart), David’s wife and Table’s house manager- Claire (the most talented Anastasia Barzee), their two wholesome kids Kate (Sawyer Niehaus) and son Bix (Tyler Jones),and their “organic green market owner” gay neighbors, Phoebe and Gloria played by Darlesia Clearcy and Danielle Ferland. Rounding out the cast are Carlo- ( played by a scene stealing Mark Nelson) owner of the “La Anarchist Pizza” situated in David’s old neighborhood of Bensonhurst, his daughter Anna (Krystina Alababo) and finally hot shot -Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur- the devilish – Sergio- wonderfully portrayed by American Idol’s Constantine Maroulis.
As families go – the Kaplans are a bit bland- unlike real restaurant owners – where you would hear families screaming, pots and pans clanging, kin a-brawling, are the norm all the time- here it’s who will make daughter Kate her morning eggs! So, what could go wrong here? Here’s the McGuffin- and it comes in the daily mail- a letter from the landlord- he’s raising the rent to $35,000 a month! How is David going to keep the restaurant going with only 4 tables? Oy Vey! For that amount of money, I could retire already and hire my own chef! But what is David going to do? Find cheaper digs, open a “Burger Fingers” franchise, move to Seattle (the play will get to that later) nope- he reaches out to his “devil on my shoulders” of an old partner, Sergio, for help in saving “Table” ! You know you never make any deals with the “Manhattan Mephistopheles” – without loosing your Sole – ahem- I do mean Soul! Upcoming a renaming – “Sergio’s Table”!
As many of you know, besides writing theater reviews, I additionally write about “dining” out here in New England. I’ve been to “ultra fancy shmancy” to “mom and pop” holes in the walls and there are a couple of things I’ve learned – first, sometimes the best “hidden gem” for a foodie is the small family place around the corner where all the townies go. Second – never call your restaurant or even a play “THE MOST” beautiful or best of anything – I once recall being invited to a new “beaucoup” restaurant to sample the “haute cuisine” – asking the waiter what was the “most” delicious item on the menu- after debating blurted “try the mashed taters”. My friends, let me continue with – there is a hidden gem here with this musical – it’s just that a few layers still need to be peeled away- let me continue..
The layers- firstly- I have never seen a cast like this giving it it’s all and it shows in each and every cast member! They are going full steam out to make this new musical a success.
Fan favorite (and mine too) Anastasia Barzee is a working actress of the highest order- from television, film and Broadway- she is a standout! No matter what she is in – I’m madly in love with the oh so talented Miss Barzee- her singing is unparalleled, (I would see this production just to hear Anastasia sing). Constantine Mouroulis – I have to admit was absolutely amazing- the America idol chap ya know, but his stage presence, easy going acting style, and yes even his singing – blew me away – top notch acting and a really great voice-yep very impressive! But it’s Mark Nelson’s portrayal as Carlo, the grumpy inventor of the “Pizza Slice” that steals the show whenever he is on stage and adds much needed levity to the production. Mark also performs one of the very few songs, “Espresso” that was a jolt to the production and brought a smile to the audience. Yes, most of the music is not memorable. It needs a bit of a “Rodgers & Hammerstein” fix – I personally like to leave the theater, especially a musical, humming at least a few of the songs.
If I was the producer- This production is way too long, with family members you just rightly don’t care for, and moments that seem so out of focus, case in point- in Act Two there is a NO WAY MOMENT- Clare, setting up an afternoon tryst with ex-flame Sergio, it feels so out of character and left me with a “yuck” moment. It might be a different story if she was going to defend her husband – but it leaves one with a dirty taste in your mouth. The production just needs a bit more fantasy and more of a feel good sensation when you leave the theater. Sparkle and magic yes- no I don’t want a Disney-esque musical -but in my mind’s eye – I do see this production more in the lines of “Damn Yankees” with a focus on a real Devilish Sergio- trying to steal the soul of David in exchange for him having the “Most Beautiful Room in New York”. I would also rewrite the character of Carlo as the wise god-like figure who helps David defeat Sergio/Devil.
And lastly, utilize the talent of Constantine a bit more- how about changing the forgettable “There’s Always A Wait For Your Table” and allowing Sergio and his two minions do a top hat and tails song and dance number to the much quoted THERES NO BIZ LIKE THE RESTAURANT BIZ- how about it Gopnik and Shire??
So here’s the question, is this musical a crystal glass with shaved ice and sliced lemon half empty or half full? – being an optimist – I say It’s delightfully full! Beyond its need to be sharpened as stated above. See it for the talents of Bogart, Nelson, Maroulis, and the deliciously divine Anastasia Barzee! Oh and how about renaming it again to “The Demon of Restaurant Row”?? When at a restaurant- it never hurts to ask!
The production will take place from May 3 through May 28, 2017 on the Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Theatre. For more information about the Long Wharf Theatre, or to purchase tickets, visit LongWharf.org or call 203-787-4282.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com