Reviewed by David Sheward
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th St., Jan. 30-Feb. 18.
Compressing a novel into a musical is a daunting task. Not only must you impart the original story, but you've also got to leave room for 20 or so musical numbers. "Time and Again," the long-gestating musical derived from Jack Finney's cult sci-fi tome, suffers from over-compression. Not only does it feel hemmed-in at the Manhattan Theatre Club's intimate studio space at City Center, but the story is pinched as well.
Jack Viertel's book gets the elements of Finney's story right—an advertising illustrator feels oddly out of place in modern Manhattan. He's recruited to go back in time to the 1880s as part of a government study to see if such chronological travel is possible. There he meets the love of his life and must choose between saving her from her dastardly fiancé and potentially destroying his own future. But in squeezing in so many plot points, we lose the time-travelling hero's personality. Despite Lewis Cleale's warm performance and fine singing voice, the character barely registers.
The saving graces here are the three leading ladies, and they get the best of Walter Edgar Kennon's otherwise routine score. Laura Benanti has spark and fire as the hero's love interest in the past; Julia Murney is all icy confidence as his modern flame; and Lauren Ward is a giddy delight as an aspiring music-hall star. Benanti and Murney have the evening's outstanding song "Who Are You Anyway?" a duet combining the styles of both eras. Ward steals the show with "The Marrying Kind," a clever spoof on the Women's Suffrage Movement, with able assists from Jeff Edgerton and David McCallum (yes, the guy from "The Man from UNCLE").
Susan H. Schulman does her usual economical and fast-moving directing job, abetted by Derek McLane's flexible and stylish set, Catherine Zuber's century-spanning costumes, Ken Billington's versatile lighting, and Brian Ronan's sound design.