Review: ‘Marry Harry’ at The York Theatre Company

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If you’re in the mood for some pure light-hearted entertainment, Marry Harry, now making its Off-Broadway debut in a limited engagement with The York Theatre Company, is a delightful new musical rom-com that exudes charm and evokes smiles. Jennifer Robbins’ feel-good belatedly-coming-of-age story of familial ties, love at first sight, following your dream, and becoming who you are is set to a buoyant score by Dan Martin (music) and Michael Biello (lyrics), under the upbeat direction and choreography of Bill Castellino. Now who doesn’t like to feel good or to smile?

‘Little Harry’ is a cook in his father’s floundering Italian eatery in the East Village, where they still live together in the apartment upstairs. On the cusp of turning 30, he longs to take his career to the next level, and applies for a position with celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, as a sous chef in her upscale East-Side restaurant – then struggles with how his working-class Dad takes the news. Sherri holds an MBA from Wharton, also lives at home, and works at her mother’s high-end real estate agency on the Upper East Side. At age 29, as she and her Mom (well, mostly her Mom!) are making the final preparations for her impending wedding, she discovers via cell phone that her “drop-dead gorgeous” fiancé is cheating on her and immediately dumps the “sleazy asshole.”

Robin Skye, Morgan Cowling, and David Spadora. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Robin Skye, Morgan Cowling, and David Spadora. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Both disheartened and unsure of their future, Harry and Sherri have an accidental encounter in the alley and share an instant attraction (or is it a rebound?), until their one-day whirlwind relationship forces them to re-examine their lives and aspirations, and affords them the opportunity to grow up at last into the adults they want to be. Will they succeed in being true to themselves while remaining close to their elders, financially independent and free from parental interference? Or will they repeat the same old patterns and become another younger generation of their forebears?

A well-cast ensemble brings the familiar personalities to life, as we empathize with their situations and root for a happy new beginning for everyone. David Spadora as Little Harry and Morgan Cowling as Sherri create characters that are a little immature and a bit uncertain, but completely endearing, as they face their growing pains (in her poignant and beautifully sung ballad on “Almost” being married), attempt to loosen (but not cut) the ties that bind, and open themselves up to new possibilities (in his soaring operetta-style homage to his idol “Lidia,” her impetuous proposal in the sweet duet “Marry Me,” and their rousing plan for marketing “Nonnina’s Biscotti”). By contrast, Lenny Wolpe as Big Harry and Robin Skye as Sherri’s mother Francine are patriarchal and controlling, but not unlikable, as they reveal their backstories and motivations, display their emotional vulnerability (he sings of his devotion to “The Family Name”), and show the abiding love they have for their adult children. Through it all, Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, and Claire Saunders serve as a ubiquitous trio of “Village Voices” – a wacky Vaudevillian-style Greek chorus, which, they tell us, is unseen by the actors but visible to the audience – who set the stage for the narrative (proclaiming “A New Day” for all), supply background harmonies for the leads, and appear in multiple guises (from angels and mannequins, to chefs and servers and Italian grandmothers), offering high-spirited musical and visual commentary on the proceedings.

Jesse Manocherian, Lenny Wolpe, David Spadora, Ben Chavez, and Claire Saunders. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Castellino’s witty direction and choreography imbue the show with a fast pace and a whimsical sense of humor. Among the highlights are inventive segments of the chorus flag-spinning tablecloths and holding up a curtain to block an intimate scene on the restaurant floor from the audience’s view. He also employs the clever leitmotiv of the actors expressively inhaling and exhaling, which speaks volumes about what they are feeling at key moments in the story. A live three-piece band provides fine accompaniment to the vocals and movement, with Music Director Eric Svejcar on piano, Mercedes Beckman on flute and clarinet, and Robin Burdulis on percussion.

The production’s appealing design is marked by an amalgam of references to popular culture. James Morgan’s set, combining a cityscape of colorful skewed buildings and a checkerboard floor inspired by the red-and-white tablecloths in traditional Italian restaurants, with complementary props by Zach Serafin, recalls the bright cartoonish style of Pop-Art installations by Red Grooms. Costumes by Tyler M. Holland define the classes and personalities of the characters, and create hilarious disguises for the Village Voices, with feathery wings and wedding gowns, aprons, uniforms, and house dresses that are apropos to each of their silly scenes.

If you’re looking for a searing drama or a heavy political statement you won’t find it here. What you will find in Marry Harry is a vibrant, heart-warming, old-fashioned musical celebration of family, growth, love, and food, with an eye-popping design, an affable cast, and imaginative direction, so just relax and enjoy the fun, feel good, and smile!

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without intermission.

Marry Harry plays through Sunday, May 21, 2017, at The York Theatre Company in the lower level of the St Peter’s Church – 619 Lexington, New York City. For tickets, call (212) 935-5820, or purchase them online.

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