New York Times
March 15, 1982
A Revue Built from Newman's Music
By Mel Gussow
It is not every popular composer whose
songs can become the successful subject of a revue. Such, unfortunately,
is the case with Randy Newman, the source of ''Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong,'' an
anthology that opened last night at the Astor Place Theater. Sung singly,
some of the numbers are tuneful, and the director, Joan Micklin Silver, has
assembled an appealing cast. However, in contrast to ''Pump Boys and
Dinettes'' and other collages, there is not nearly enough musical variety or
ingenuity to sustain an evening in the theater.
Mrs. Silver had evidently tried to
compensate for the limitations of the random songs as musical score by
presenting a busy production. She fills the stage with gimmicks and
quirks. While a four-piece combo plays on a bright bandstand, the
evening's four talented singers take part in a picnic in a parking lot, complete
with parking meters and a station wagon. This means that, at odd
intervals, they crawl under the car, pretend to loll in sunshine and to cook on
an open barbecue as smoke curls ominously over the bandstand. All this is
simply a distraction from the evening's central subject.
The music is a puree of pop with a folk
tang, taking time out for gospel and a bit of barbershop harmonizing. Mr.
Newman is, it would seem from this show, a rather traditional popular composer,
with a drift toward the nostalgic, as in his sentimental background music for
''Ragtime,'' nicely played, organ-grinder style, by the on-stage combo.
In the lyrics, there is often an attempt
at social, political and economic commentary - and that is the least effective
part of the show. Sing a song about the President, and a light strikes a
picture of Ronald Reagan above the stage to remind us which President is the
figure of fun. Some of the lyrics are perhaps intended ironically, but
they end as fuzzy thinking. In a number of cases, they are in questionable
taste, such as tune that deals with Orientals; there is not much of a message in
simply identifying a stereotype. In his choice of material, Mr. Newman
also has a fondness for the bizarre - in songs about a dwarf, an incredibly fat
boy and the woes of being a short person.
Each of the four singers has a chance or
two to shine. Larry Riley, most recently seen as the guitar-playing
private in ''A Soldier's Play,'' sings the Newman hit ''Sail Away'' and the
wistful ''Marie.'' Pert Patti Perkins, an experienced hand at revues,
warbles the sad ''Old Man,'' and for a moment sounds like Patti Page.
Deborah Rush, a merry adornment to the
entertainment, matches her cheerleader prettiness with an impish manner in
performance. She sings love songs and pep tunes, and also does a turn as
an endearing drunk. Mark Linn-Baker, a versatile mime and clown,
repeatedly adds humor to the show, linking arms with an imaginary bruin to sing
''Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear.''
The voices and personalities complement
one another in chorus, blending in the title song and in an old-fashioned
'Dayton, Ohio 1903,'' one of several salutes to American cities. The
musical direction by Michael S. Roth, who leads the band from the piano, is a
decided asset, and there is a passing attempt at close-quarters choreography,
including one novelty number about policemen on parade. The evening is
never less than cheerful, but, taken all together - 35 Randy Newmans in a row -
the show is an overextended long-playing record.