Have A Nice Life
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 20, 2010
The seven hard-working actors who comprise the cast of Have a Nice Life—Amy Acchione, Dorien Belle, Megan Martinez, Benjamin Michael, Nicole Paloux, Gregg Pica, and Miriam White—are so ingratiating and talented that they make this new musical into a reasonably entertaining show. That's despite a score by Conor Mitchell and Matthew Hurt that's generally derivative in style, a paper-thin storyline, and underdeveloped characters created by book-writer Hurt. And notwithstanding the upbeat title and the name of the producing entity, Nice People Theatre, these folks we're asked to spend 75 minutes with in Have a Nice Life are not exactly delightful company.
The premise is that we are at a group therapy session. The leader is Patrick, a very young and uncertain psychologist (I guess) who offers platitudes and canned exercises like word association and role-playing games to a five-member group while dealing with his own issues of inadequacy. The group members are familiar archetypes: Chris is an overweight mama's boy who has never had a serious romantic relationship and is resentful of his mother's new boyfriend; Jean is an angry, assertive young woman who has difficulties making relationships work; Frank is a posturing postman who joined the group to pick up women; Jackie is a talkative, overwrought mother of three who says she has no friends; and Barbara, clad in fishnet and leather a la Mimi in Rent, is an anti-social individual who has been ordered to attend these therapy sessions by a judge.
Patrick reveals his inexperience right away by allowing Jackie to bring a new member to the group with no notice. This is Amy, a woman Jackie met three hours ago when, while Jackie was in a shoe store, Amy discovered Jackie's new-born baby outside in his stroller, unattended. I think this is supposed to be cute and quirky, but to me it was quite disturbing; and although both Jackie and Amy are eventually revealed to be women with significant issues, it was hard to warm up to either of them...or, indeed, to anyone in Have a Nice Life.
The therapy session format gives each character the central spot in turn. The ending, though, feels rushed and unmotivated (though it is the most entertaining part of the show).
The story is told mostly through song; the score—which is nicely played by musical director Tom Brady on piano, accompanied by Joseph Yasso on drums—consists of musical numbers that too often reminded me of similar ones from shows like A New Brain, Chicago, Falsettos, or Wicked and non-rhyming recitative bits that feel modeled on late Sondheim or Lloyd Webber. In the songs, the company shines, though: they're almost all great singers and actors, and they put over the material with a polish and brio that's quite engaging. Nancy Berman Kantra's choreography lets them down, with almost nothing interesting to offer—a song about romantic love, for example, features the cast breaking out umbrellas, somewhat illogically, which they then twirl in formation. And Bill Felty's direction keeps them busy moving but in unmotivated ways: they keep shifting their chairs back and forth, but whenever a character has a solo to sing, s/he moves downstage to face the audience, his/her back to the other characters, losing any sense of naturalism.
I was also disappointed in a small but noticeable strain of homophobia in Have a Nice Life. There's a lyric in the romantic love number which refers to "the AIDS guy [i.e., Rock Hudson] and Doris Day," which seemed to me pretty poor taste. And when it's suggested that Frank might be gay, his homosexual panic is both unnecessary and, worse, unchecked by anyone on stage.
And yet the actors sell the show as well as they can, and thanks to them, the 75 minutes pass reasonably cheerfully.