nytheatre.com review by Shelley Molad
January 13, 2009
Sessions is a new musical by Albert M. Tapper. The cast features a number of Broadway veterans including Tony nominee Liz Larsen, one of the show's highlights, John Hickok (Parade, Aida, Little Women), and the eye-catching Maya Days (Aida, Rent, Jesus Christ Superstar).
Sessions is the story of a debonair New York therapist, Dr. Peter Peterson (Hickok), who begins to realize that his own life is in need of as much assessment as those of his patients. Comprising his group therapy sessions are the biting couple Mr. and Mrs. Murphy (played by Ken Jennings and Liz Larsen), the socially inept George (Scott Richard Foster), the overly sunny Sunshine (Kelli Maguire), the victim-in-denial Mary (Natalie Buster), the anxious real estate tycoon Baxter (Al Bundonis), a crooner who calls himself "Dylan," believing he is Bob Dylan incarnate (played by Sky Seals), and, last but not least, the bewitching Leila (Maya Days) who is the coveted object of Dr. Peterson's affection.
Sessions has the potential to be both a gritty and entertaining musical, but it falls into clichéd traps, avoiding conflicts or tiptoeing around them. With that said, there are definitely moments and numbers that are enjoyable and certainly impressive, and the well-designed set (John McDermott) provides a fitting backdrop for the ensuing group sessions. The most memorable ensemble number is "The Sun Shines In," which showcases the vocal range and power of the cast. Larsen, Maguire, and Foster consistently hit impressive notes. Leila's songs are edgy and evocative, such as "Breathe" and "I Will Never Find Another You." Days sings with subtle sentiment and a display of real emotion, which is far more interesting to watch than some of the more upbeat numbers with cheesy lyrics. Seals is a pleasure to watch, as he provides much of the real humor in this piece and truly does resemble and sound like the legendary Dylan. "I'm an Average Guy," which he sings alone on stage, with Sunshine watching, is really touching. Director Thomas Cote nicely stages a few similarly notable numbers in which characters reveal true vulnerability. One that sticks in my mind is Mary and Dr. Peterson's reprise, "This is One River I Can't Cross."
Dr. Peterson's first fantasy with Leila is just as effective and revealing, as it presents us with a morally questionable protagonist. Their evolving relationship presents potential for the most conflict, being that she is his patient and he is married, but it remains a weak subplot that dwindles and resolves too easily. Peterson's desire is strong but nothing ever really culminates; even if that's a legitimate refusal to commit adultery, there isn't enough of a struggle—there is a certain tension lacking that we as an audience are hungry for. Cote takes them there every so often, but it seems that the actors could go further with their choices.
Unsatisfied with the progress of his patients and somewhat troubled by his desire for Leila, Dr. Peterson intermittently communicates with his superego, in the form of a slightly contrived voiceover. It might have been more interesting if Dr. Peterson took part in therapy instead, for the idea that therapists have a need for their own sessions is a real indicator that we are all "only human." We get a feel for this when Leila momentarily puts Dr. Peterson in the hot seat, from which he gently removes himself.
Once we have reached the climax of the play, when Dr. Peterson reconsiders his decision to practice, the major conflicts are predictably resolved. Considering that this is a modern-day musical involving pressing themes such as suicide, failed marriage, identity crisis, and adultery, it comes as a surprise that the message we are left with—that we are all "only human"—is chummy to a degree; Tapper could have taken more risks instead of straying away from the darker sides of people in need of help and desperate for it.