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Paulanne Simmons

" Pipe Dream" Is Still Sleepy

"Pipe Dream"
Directed by Marc Bruni
New York City Center Encore!
131 W. 55th St., through Sunday
March 28 - April 1, 2012
Tickets: $25-$115; 212-581-1212; nycitycenter.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 29, 2012

Stephen Wallem, Will Chase, Tom Wopat, Laura Osnes. Photo by Ari Mintz

Perhaps the most interesting thing about "Pipe Dream" is that the musical was not successful. "Pipe Dream" is based on John Steinbeck’s 1954 sequel to Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday and has music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. But Rodgers and Hammerstein were not the first to be approached by producers Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin.

Originally the producers had approached Frank Loesser, who was busy with a project that was to become "The Most Happy Fella." Both Hammerstein and Rodgers were uncomfortable with a musical whose lead character is a madame. But they were intrigued with some of the other characters, and they let themselves be convinced.

Laura Osnes. Photo by Ari Mintz

"Pipe Dream" takes place is in the mid 1950s, on Cannery Row in Monterey, California, where a group of tramps live in The Palace Flophouse, a storage shed behind the Chinese store now owned by Joe the Mexican. The flophouse is next door to a local bordello, the Bear Flag.

Doc, a marine biologist who is befriended by all, is happily single when Suzy, a prostitute in Steinbeck’s book but a penniless transient in the musical, arrives in town. While a tramp named Mac plots to make Doc the owner of the flophouse, the madame schemes to bring Mac and Suzy together.

Leslie Uggams, Laura Osnes. Photo by Ari Mintz


Rodgers and Hammerstein have created a lovely score around this improbable love story, but their original discomfort with the plot limits the score’s effectiveness. As Encores! current staged reading of the show, directed by Marc Bruni, demonstrates, some of the best numbers have little to do with the show’s plot, most specifically a bizarre retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with a madame playing a fairy godmother.
The show does have a stellar cast, with Will Chase as Doc, Laura Osnes as Suzy, Leslie Uggams as the Fauna, madame, and Tom Wopat as Mac, the wisecracking tramp. Hearing Uggams’s rendition of "Fauna’s Song," "Sweet Thursday" and "All at Once You Love Her" is nothing less than pure pleasure. Tom Wopat delivers a funny and likable portrait of an old-fashioned bum with a good heart.

But Even the best direction and most inspired performers cannot overcome the flimsiness of the plot, which seems to ramble along with only a very generalized idea of where it’s going and why. However, "Pipe Dream" is a significant piece of musical theater history. And it’s important to remember that even geniuses make mistakes. Besides, a lot of "Pipe Dream" is funny, upbeat and entertaining.

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