New York City Theater
"A Catered Affair"
Walter Kerr Theater
Mistaking lugubriousness for seriousness, “A Catered Affair” has a first-class pedigree. Based on a teleplay by Paddy Chayevsky and a screenplay by Gore Vidal (the film starred Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Barry Fitzgerald and Debbie Reynolds), the stage show has a book by Harvey Fierstein and a score by John Bucchino. Somewhere, however, the original’s brio got lost and, under John Doyle’s isolating direction, the evening founders.
The story concerns Aggie and Tom, parents of Janey, who’s engaged to Ralph. The kids want to elope, partly because her family is too poor to foot a big wedding. But Aggie will hear none of it. She wants her daughter to have the kind of nuptials she herself missed. To that end, she’ll use money the government gave her when her son was killed in military action (the time is 1953), even though Tom would like to use the dough to buy a taxicab medallion.
Enter Uncle Winston – well, not exactly “enter” since he’s played by Fierstein who injects himself into just about every scene, germane or not. Acting as both observer and commentator, Winston-Fierstein all but strangles the action.
To be sure, there are lovely moments. “One White Dress,” in which Aggie sings about her beloved daughter, is moving, especially in the hands of the excellent Faith Prince as mom and Leslie Kritzer as the daughter. So, too, is “I Stayed,” which Tom Wopat delivers with heartbreaking tenderness. Matt Cavenaugh is an attractive groom-to-be.
But “A Catered Affair” is so low-key that its music and lyrics actually get lost as they slide in and out of the plot. The idea of creating a low-key musical play where dialogue and songs fit seamlessly one into the other is admirable. Yet, in this case, it’s too many lows, too few highs.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 11, 2008