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Margaret Croyden

"Hapiness" a Musical

"Happiness"--a Musical
Directed by Susan Stroman
Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
Book: Joseph Weidman; Music: Scott Frankel; Lyrics: Michael Korie
Lincoln Center Plaza
Reviewed April 12, 2009 by Margaret Croyden

If you want to have an afternoon without thinking too much, go to this innocuous little musical, "Happiness" (which is not very happy, but that may be the point). But if you have seen enough plays dealing with death on Broadway this season, ("33 Variations," "Exit The King") then you don't want to go. "Happiness" is about 10 (seemed like 100) people who find themselves on a train that stops on the tracks and won't move. All are trapped. One by one they get out. But getting out means they are about to meet their maker. So the train has been a stop to heaven or to hell. Take your pick.
As each descends they review their life in sketches ranging from high school dances, war time experiences, love affairs, and the usual (and forgettable) so called happy moments in their lives. Each has picked some moment, or some event, or some time when they felt fulfilled and experienced a sort of happiness.

At first I thought the plot was somewhat novel but finally it reminded me of an old Leslie Howard movie, "Outward Bound," which dealt with the same subject; only everyone was on a train. At any rate, first we are intrigued as an old lady remembers her days of glory during the Second World War and imagines herself dancing to the tunes of the 40's. And this was nicely done. But wait, we need to live through the 10 or more who are slated to die and slated to relive their past--all of this without an intermission. This kind of no surprises took almost two hours until each actor got on with his or her death and remembrances. All along, I kept counting who was left--and it seemed endless--these boring stories.

Some of Ms. Stroman's choreography was fair and rather conventional; sad to say she lacks originality. One can't remember anyone who is outstanding, or any particular number that was great. Maybe the first one but soon the entire production became repetitive.

At worst, the music was nondescript. Not a song or lyric to remember. But some of the scenery was good, particularly the train when it first comes on stage; after that, it loses its attraction.

O.K. It is harmless afternoon. But for heavens sake, leave us alone with these plays about death. This is number four on the no hit parade of Broadway trying to entertain us. Thanks but no thanks.

Margaret Croyden's latest book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Fairer, Straus and Giroux).

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