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Paulanne Simmons

Sweet Music

"Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky"
Directed by Joe Calarco
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd St.
Opened Dec. 5, 2006
Tues. thru Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2:30 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 & 7:30 p.m.
$65 (212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com or www.playwrightshorizons.org
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 1, 2006

During the first third of "Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky," you wonder if there's going to be anything resembling a plot in this thin, but sometimes pleasing musical.

During the second third, you realize what you've seen so far is about all you're going to get.

And by the time you get to the final third, you begin to wonder whether David Cale, who wrote the book and lyrics, co-composed the music (with Jonathan Kreisberg) and co-stars with Mary Faber, was aiming at some kind of parody a la "Johnny Guitar."

But by the end of the show, it's clear that "Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky," as sappy and sentimental as it is, was a genuine attempt at portraying a love story between two country and western singers.

The story centers on Floyd Duffner (Cale), a has-been alcoholic singer who is living in his dilapidated car when he meets the talented and eager Clea Johnson (Faber). Clea brings meaning and hope into his life. She gets him off the bottle and back onstage. Floyd, with the obligatory recalcitrance and reluctance, eventually falls in line and in love (although his love is never consummated).

The daughter of a social worker who follows her heart into unwise relationships and a man who was the other part of one of those relationships, Clea blends ambition with compassion. While she's reforming Floyd she's also working on her own career, which eventually takes off in Hollywood, where, for reasons not fully explained, she succumbs to some of the same weaknesses that plague Floyd.

Floyd never wavers. He's always there for Clea singing and crying with her.

Director Joe Calarco does his best with a script he should have known was hopeless, but he apparently couldn't keep Cale from giving an over-the-top performance that makes Deputy Chester Goode in "Gunsmoke" and Barney Fife in "The Andy Griffith Show" seem like city slickers (he's named his car Maybelle, for God's sake!). Faber has a more sedate approach, but she cannot overcome the stiff and saccharine dialogue.

However, and this is a big one, the show is saved by a score that makes up for its lack of originality with a zest that is a true tribute to the country and western idiom. It's played by four excellent musicians (Dylan Schiavone, Jimmy Heffernan, Brad Russell and Bill Campbell) who are introduced to the audience at the end as part of the show.

"Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky" is not exactly Broadway bound, but if you like country and western music and don't mind a little schmaltz, put on your spurs and head on out.

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