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Paulanne Simmons

A Wacky New Musical Talks of Life and Love

IN MY LIFE -- Jessica Boevers, Christopher J. Hanke. Photo by Joan Marcus.

"In My Life"
Directed by Joseph Brooks
The Music Box
239 West 45th St. between Broadway and Eighth Ave.
Tue. 8 p.m., Wed. 2 & 8 p.m., Thu, Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
$26.25-$101.25, (212) 239-6200
Opened Oct. 20, 2005
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 1, 2005

Why does humanity suffer? Why do people hurt themselves? Why do they hurt others? For the characters in Joseph Brooks' new musical "In My Life," the answer seems to be that God is a good-natured jingle writer and bungler named Al (the talented Michael J. Farina), and he has left their fate in the hands of a heavenly helper, Winston (the hammy but hilarious David Turner), a self-involved wannabe impresario who is trying to create an operatic masterpiece that derives its power and passion from human tragedy.

Winston's opera centers on two unlikely lovers: Jenny (Jessica Boevers), a Village Voice freelance writer whose obsessive-compulsive disorder interferes with her ability to form relationships; and J.T. (Christopher J. Hanke), a singer/songwriter with Tourette's syndrome who is mourning the death of his mother, Liz (Roberta Gumbel), and sister, Vera (Chiara Navarra). In a conveniently contrived twist, the two died in a car accident caused by Nick (Michael Halling), a drunken driver who happens to have been the boyfriend of Jenny's best friend, Samantha (the excellent Laura Jordan).

The musical unfolds in two worlds – heaven and earth, a scenic tour-de-force created by designer Allen Moyer. And as its name might indicate, it is an allegory about life. The songs have titles like "What a Strange Life We Live" and "Life Turns on a Dime."

Winston, played by Turner as a gay master of ceremonies with an unusual sense of fashion, takes control of the lovers' lives. He also steals the show.

Turner is equally at ease dancing a soft shoe with Farina, or executing the Rockettes' signature moves with a line of skeletons. Whenever the drama slows down or gets mired in its own syrupiness, Turner swoops down from heaven with his delightfully diabolical humor.

Brooks, whose credits include the 1970s hit "You Light Up My Life" and advertising jingles for Dr. Pepper and Volkswagen, also directed and produced In My Life. And this may account for some of the show's excesses – a manic and sometimes sappy plot in which forgiveness, divine intervention and sacrifice play too big a role, and over-the-top characters who are too sweet or too goofy are the two most obvious examples. But if one is willing to overlook some drawbacks, In My Life offers many entertaining moments and a clumsy eccentricity that eventually does work.

Brooks has written a pleasing and varied score (there are pop tunes, ballads, and a pseudo-aria) that consistently advances the plot, if it does not contain show-stoppers destined to become popular standards.

Young Navarra has a set of lungs many adults might envy and Gumbel has a voice that could melt iron.

Most notably, Moyer has joined forces with Catherine Zuber (costumes) and Christopher Akerlind (lighting) to bring heaven and earth together in a most enchanting style.

Surely this season The Great White Way can make way for unconventional lovers and divine shenanigans alongside homicidal barbers and shameless producers.

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