Offbeat joy in 'Girl in Frame'
By JEREMY STOLLER, Special to the Times Union
The The musical -- which credits David Guerrerio with "additional material" -- opens with Alex (Todd Cerveris) waiting at a restaurant for his fiancee, Laney (Stephanie Kurtzuba). When she arrives, she spends most of the time on her cellphone ("Business issues come before eating," she says), and then rushes off to Madrid for a project she's working on. By coincidence, they've given each other the same gift: an identical picture frame with an identical stock photo of a seemingly perfect woman. Todd returns home with his, and soon "Evelyn" (Vicki Van Tassel) pops out of the photo and proceeds to fulfill his every fantasy.
Things don't really pick up until Laney returns home, and she and Alex realize they've both been spending time with the imaginary Evelyn. Up until this point, the musical is a somewhat worn tale of a couple in trouble, with little evidence of why they stay together. But from the moment all three are onstage, the show mostly exits the land of sitcom rerun -- enjoyable, but you've seen it before -- and enters one of farcical, zany fun. A fantasy fireman (Victor Wallace), this one from a calendar of Laney's, enters to meet her desires, and things get further complicated.
Indeed, Desmon's (and the production's) main misstep is stopping short of the musical's potential for farce and zaniness. While most of the piece is undeniably enjoyable, the material is as not as consistently distinctive or fresh as Desmon shows himself capable of making it. Similarly, the production could stand to turn the wackiness factor up a notch. Director Thomas Caruso has created some very funny visual gags, but his staging of the delightful "Pinch Me" only intermittently does the song justice. This is the case with other portions of the show. The busy choreography for "That's What Fantasies are For" occasionally left Van Tassel out of breath, and made little of the song's staging potential.
While all four actors give solid performances, Wallace is the most successful at tapping into the material's offbeat sensibility; he delivers "Pinch Me" deliciously. Kurtzuba's character remains completely cold and selfish too long, but the actress shines in the second-act "Man of Your Dreams," a revelation about love in the real world. It has a lovely melody and a funny lyric that nails the moment -- although, again, it could have gone deeper.
The fact that the work already has future productions lined up is a testament to how much there is to enjoy here.
Jeremy Stoller is a freelance writer living in Albany.
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