Patty Breckenridge, Gary Floyd, and Chris Wagley can sing. I mean, really sing. Therefore, it’s a downright shame to watch such tremendously talented performers slog through the drab material that is Theatre Too’s production of the song cycle Songs from an Unmade Bed.
Song cycles are an inherently tricky type of show to pull off. Often there are no continuous characters, no real plotline, nothing to pull an audience along except the inherent charm of the music. It’s difficult to even classify this show as a song cycle; for the majority of its 70 minutes, it plays more like a cabaret minus the audience interaction.
For Songs, lyricist Mark Campbell tried an unconventional experiment: he wrote the lyrics for 18 songs, then sent them to as many different composers before compiling the results. The outcome could have either been a disjointed mess or a brilliant collection of disparate musical tastes. Oddly enough, for a list that includes such composers as Duncan Sheik (of the angsty Broadway pop hit Spring Awakening) and Jake Heggie (the Dallas world premiere of the opera Moby-Dick), the outcome is astonishingly bland. Each song sounds the same, and each is forgettable.
The saving grace of this production lies in its cast. Songs was originally produced Off-Broadway in 2005 with only one character, a gay man presenting his sardonic, understated observations of life and dating (presumably in New York City). In Theatre Too’s production, director Terry Dobson has doubled the men and added a lady, presenting the experiences from the point of view of couples, singles, and at times even triangles. It’s a smart move, as it gives the show considerable more depth and encourages interaction and reaction.
Patty Breckenridge slips easily between her characters, reining in desperation one moment at finding herself alone in “Spring” to cursing her own gullibility with “Oh, to be Stupid Again.” Singing while upside down and hanging off of the title bed in “Exit Right” is an impressive, gravity-defying feat in and of itself. While Gary Floyd isn’t given quite the same wide range of situations, he still contributes a solid presence, especially in the surprisingly touching “Our Separate Ways.” Chris Wagley, though a tad repetitive with his sassiness, is given some of the more outrageous tunes (“The Other Other Woman” and “He Never Did That Before”) and milks them relentlessly.
However, as valiantly as each tries to sell their moment in time, the effect ultimately falls a little flat. The lyrics rely so much on heavy-handed punchlines that moments of heartfelt discovery or honest surprise are overshadowed by cheap, easy, and not particularly clever laughs. Poetry is also lacking, with the sentiment “let’s have sex” cropping up bluntly and repeatedly. Love and relationships are not undiscovered territory, especially in musical theater, and plenty have come before Campbell with more subtlety and eloquence.
It’s darn near impossible not to compare this piece to Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New World or even the perennial crowd-pleaser I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (coincidentally making a return engagement to Theatre Too in January). Each tackles the unremarkable and the incredible of life with a distinctive tone, but where Songs For a New World and I Love You succeed with poignant, witty tunes, Song from an Unmade Bed finds itself muffled by the musical equivalent of too many throw pillows.