Peter Mills is a prodigiously talented songwriter. The slick, funny, tuneful music and lyrics in his new song cycle Lonely Rhymes are near the high level of his songs for his OOBR-winning Taxi Cabaret (http://www.oobr.com/top/volNine/nineteen/TaxiCabaret.htm), as are the performances by Jason Mills, Tracey Moore, Liz Power, and Noah Weisberg. It's glorious icing, complete with sprinkles and candy roses, but what's missing is the cake.
There's no "book by" credit to the show, and while Prospect offers the precis that the show "examines the solitude of artistic creation, and the often-hilarious search for each person's true love" it's more of a loose-jointed collection of set-ups. Whether these are trunk songs or new compositions, there has been only the slightest attempt to have one song lead to another, or build on what came before. And that's a shame, because no song is less than very good, with a couple fairly screaming for more context.
It starts off well, with the cast singing about disappointments, setbacks, frustrations, and feelings of suffocation, and Mills's lyric "How much deeper can I get/Into oxygen debt" is typical of his facility with words and metaphor, and his music sets it perfectly, making the song even better than dialog for getting his point across. Noah (the program calls the characters Woman and Man 1 and 2) follows with "Today Is The Day," a funny song about new goals and the predictable results; Tracey sings "Lifelike," about how her life is a sham in spite of being busy with her good career, gym, all the symbols of success; "The Fine Print" has Jason jokingly comparing incipient relationships to buying a car.
Director Cara Reichel staged "Lifelike" and "Fine Print" in café settings, leading the audience to expect developing character connections. (Liz even mentions an obsession over her high-school sweetheart, Ted.) The next song, the phenomenal "Penelope Unravels," has Tracey and Liz as women of different eras waiting for their men to return, using The Odyssey's story of Penelope weaving and then unraveling her work as a metaphor for despair and loneliness. But fine as the song (and performance) is, it signals that plot development is not in the cards. So simply sit back and enjoy each song on its own, and marvel at the cast's ability to put over a number.
Hints of connections do appear -- Liz sings a paean to computer spam (was she cruising dating sites?) in the cleverly titled "Not the Monty Python Song"; the company sings the title song about words which can't be rhymed and thus are difficult to pair up (get it?); "Dish Doin' Day" is the funny acknowledgment that growing up and taking care of oneself means doing unglamorous chores. "Breaking Up" is another dual meaning song as a couple miscommunicates via cell phone, and the very funny "No Abra La Puerta" also trades in meaning as intended vs. received. (Liz's ex, Ted, rates a mention in both, although not coherently.) "Homeland Hymn," a bitter satire delivered by Noah folk-style, may be peripherally connected as comment on life in the city, but "180 Degrees" (about, yes, geometry and complementary shapes -- and people) and "The Deleted Song" (about, yes, the whys and wherefores of deleting a song from a musical), for all their cleverness, push the "concept" to its limits.
The songs were performed on a simple, Fantasticks-like set (designed by Erik Flatmo) with a string of lightbulbs up front, and a backdrop of shower curtains (one showing the NYC subway system). But the performance space at the church was under a very high dome, which was dramatic, but sound can get lost, and the spotlights were high up (lighting design by Ji-youn Chang), and sometimes cast unfortunate shadows from the string of bulbs onto the faces of the cast.
Perhaps some of the songs were just Mills doodling, or Prospect needed a show to fill a hole in its schedule. Even if Lonely Rhymes is a bit disjointed, let it be restated that Peter Mills is a talent to be reckoned with, and even a minor Mills revue is cause for rejoicing.
Book: N/A Songs: 2
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Copyright 2004 David Mackler