Poet Christopher Reiner's smart and sparkling debut as a composer and lyricist is a wonderful fit with the quirky aesthetic of Zombie Joe in this musical revue directed by Alison Cardoso and Joe. Reiner casts a refreshingly jaded eye on romance in this series of songs, performed with aplomb and earthiness by Susie Cremin, Clarissa Park, Brenda Petrakos, Rainey K. Taylor, and Reiner. In the tunes, which are an offbeat marriage of Sondheim and Seinfeld, lovers experience the disappointments and the thrills of romance, but always from a slight distance. In "Going Through the Motions" two lovers conclude they must be in love, as they are making all the right moves. In "Say That Now," a hilarious riff on lovers' lies, Cremin asks her beloved to say all the right words, even if he doesn't mean it; as she spins out the funny and poignant lyrics, she pirouettes to a hilarious cheerleader routine.
In "You're Too True" Park finds fault with her partner, who has no faults. Principled to his boring core, her lover won't cheat on her, even a little bit, and she hates that. And in "Long Sad Song" the ensemble recounts the trials and tribulations of love that add up, in the end, to something wonderful. But there is an iconoclastic longing in all of Reiner's songs, an unexpressed wish that love could be easier and less painful. Despite all the grief, however, Reiner is clearly a romantic. In "All It Takes Is Starlight," Park sings about the eternal hope that her future lover is right around the corner, waiting to appear on a starlit night. In "Nearly There," the ensemble describes the imaginary lover who comes in a dream, always perfect but slightly out of reach.
Reiner is a master lyricist, probably as a result of his work as a poet. His rhythmic imagery and narrative drive are hallmarks of each song. In "Wake Up and Forget" Taylor does a marvelous turn as a woman haunted by dreams of an abusive lover, which only end in death. And "Anybody in Love" and "Only the Best" are ensemble anthems for postmodern love, songs for survivors of the romantic wars.
The directing is spry and original. As in many Zombie Joe productions, the casting is also inspired. Taylor has a delicious warmth and spirit. Park is cooler but skillfully grabs the lyrics by the throat. Cremin brings a spry twinkle to each song, and Petrakos captures an earthy reality in her performance.
This is the kind of musical revue that should run forever, not only in this small theatre in NoHo but also around the country in a variety of venues. Now, perhaps more than ever before, what we need is love.