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Review: ‘Curvy Widow’ at Westside Theatre Upstairs

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Barbara Goldman was married to the Academy Award winning playwright/screenwriter/novelist James Goldman; she’s been called Bobby through their 23-year marriage, which ended when he died at 71 in 1998. At the time, Follies, the musical he had written with Stephen Sondheim, was playing to excellent reviews and big business at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. She had worked during their marriage as “a world class chef, interior designer, contractor and boxer,” and he had welcomed her counsel as his editor, dramaturg, and unofficial manager.

Nancy Opel as Bobby Goldman in Curvy Widow. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Bobby was in her 50s when Jim Goldman died, and Curvy Widow chooses to deal with the re-awakening of her sexual urges, of her experiences in chat rooms and dating sites. We meet her psychiatrist, who urges or to “get laid’, and a handful of the many men with whom she dallied in the year of her Great Adventure.

A very able supporting cast of six manage to characterize her three loyal girlfriends and the many men whom Bobby manages to meet on Match.com. We even get glimpses of the late Jim Goldman, who drops in now and then to comment on his response to her quest for a fulfilling life. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s uncompromising and offers Bobby at least the promise of a late life that suits her.

Ms. Goldman has wisely put her play in the resourceful hands of director Peter Flynn, who extracts from it all the humor, some of it bringing belly laughs. He also manages to keep the non-linear story afloat by inventive staging and his collaboration with set and lighting designers Rob Bissinger and Matthew Richards, who can turn a Hollywood mansion into a Greenwich Village town house with magical speed. Since sex is a co-star in this play, it’s only fitting that a magnificent queen size bed rolls on and off stage in a sprightly manner.

And then we have Nancy Opel, remembered fondly for her work all the way back to Urinetown, and many other musicals which have prepared her for this star turn. Her voice is firm and appealing when she’s belting as an alto or chirping sweetly as a soprano. The musical material by Drew Brody is serviceable, with dexterity particularly in many of his lyrics. Marcos Santana has choreographed these eighteen numbers nimbly, and his versatile ensemble cast is appealing and able to differentiate between characters quickly, changing everything from shoes to hair styles with a flick of the wrist.

Alan Muraoka, Christopher Shyer, and Ken Land. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

I would have liked to know more about Bobby Goldman. I’d have liked to know more than what she wants out of life, and more about what makes her so hungry for solitude, so needy for control. I’ve been told that most men in the audiences have preferred another conclusion to this musical biography, that most women scream their approval of this very feminist work. It sticks to its guns. Ms. Goldman has been quoted as saying: “There’s no hiding in this one. The character’s name is Bobby. Nancy (Opel) is wearing my clothes. The set is a copy of my apartment. The props are from my apartment. I had to buy a peppermill because mine is onstage.” She offers us this about her story. “It’s about ‘what do I do with myself’?” If you have ever asked yourself that when circumstances have altered the course of your life, you’ll find one woman’s answer at The Westside Theatre.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Curvy Widow plays through October 15, 2017 at Westside Theatre (Upstairs) – 407 West 43rd Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, go to the box office, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.

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