Love might not be enough to keep Rainbow Stage's Neil Sedaka jukebox musical together

Love might not be enough to keep Rainbow Stage's Neil Sedaka jukebox musical together

Breaking up is hard to do. So, it seems, is making a jukebox musical of Neil Sedaka songs.

Not that the American songwriter hasn’t given Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters, who wrote the book for the musical comedy Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, plenty to work with.

Yes, his career has had significant lulls and his tunes perhaps haven’t withstood the test of time as well as those of some others (this is probably as good a place as any to confess that Sedaka is a bit before my time, and many others in the audience seemed considerably more familiar with his catalogue than I was going in).

But Sedaka has penned an awful lot of tunes (an estimated 500, including songs recorded by himself and a virtual who’s who of pop music) in a remarkably long career (he started recording in 1957 and still tours).

Jackson and Winters loosely stitch nearly 20 of the better-known songs into Breaking Up…, the first show in Rainbow Stage’s two-show summer season.

Nelson Bettencourt as Gabe Green and Katie German as Marge Getman are likable romantic leads in Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. (Robert Tinker)

Set in a struggling Catskills resort in 1960, the thin plot revolves around best friends Marge (a sweet-voiced Katie German, perfectly likable in the lead) and the delightfully ditzy Lois (Laura Olafson). 

Marge is blue after being jilted by her ​fiancé and, under Lois’s prodding, she begins looking for love everywhere except where she should — with the sweet but nebbish Gabe (Nelson Bettencourt), the resort employee who has fallen for her.

Meanwhile, the resort’s resident comedian, Harvey (Wayne Buss!), has fallen for the boss, Esther (Debbie Maslowsky), while the pretty boy crooner Del Delamont (a perfectly preening Darren Martens) is mostly in love with himself.

Will everyone find love with the person they should? No spoilers, but you’ll probably see where this is going in the first few minutes.

Strong voices, lazy plot

To be fair, jukebox musicals aren’t generally about intricate plotting — they’re about finding a way to cram in as many recognizable tunes as possible.

Breaking Up… succeeds on that point, getting to the titular song within the first few seconds of the show and keeping a steady stream of tunes coming, including Sedaka hits including Calendar Girl, Solitaire, Laughter In the Rain and Love Will Keep Us Together (the last best known as a Captain and Tennille hit, but written by Sedaka).

The songs are admirably performed by an all-local cast of eight, and a five-person band under music director Danny Carroll.

There are strong voices throughout, and director Debbie Patterson and company make the most of the show’s gentle and sometimes endearingly corny humour with big performances that are often outright hammy, though fittingly so.

Wayne Buss! as Harvey Feldman and Debbie Maslowsky as Esther Simowitz in Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. It’s sweet and often amusing and altogether inoffensive, but even for a jukebox musical, the writing is remarkably bland. (Robert Tinker)

Patterson’s spirited production isn’t afraid to be silly, and that pays off with an energy and a sense of fun that almost overcomes the faults of Jackson and Winters’s book.

Not quite, though.

It’s sweet and often amusing and altogether inoffensive. But even for a jukebox musical, the writing is remarkably bland (and, at about 135 minutes with intermission, far longer than it needs to be).

The characters are too stock for us to invest all that much in their stories, and the plot is so lazy and predictable that there’s nothing to engage here except the promise of the next song.

If you’re a big enough fan of Neil Sedaka, that may be enough to keep you from breaking up with Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.

For me, the evident love for the tunesmith just wasn’t enough to keep it together.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do runs at Rainbow Stage until July 22.

Published at Fri, 13 Jul 2018 16:00:32 -0400