She’s a widow as the leading lady of the musical. She wants to rejoin life. She’s considering getting married again but needs to have her late husband release his hold on her. You think, don’t you?, that she’s Dolly Gallagher Levi in the Jerry Herman-Michael Stewart Hello, Dolly!, currently packing them in at the Shubert.
She isn’t. She’s Bobby Goldman in Curvy Widow just opening at the Westside Theatre/Upstairs after a stop at New Brunwick’s George Street Playhouse and stints at North Carolina Stage Company and, in 2008, a San Francisco song-less, solo production starring Cybill Shepherd. And nosirree-bob, this is definitely no Dolly Gallagher Levi.
Bobby Goldman does, however, exhibit her own interest. Whereas the irrepressible Levi woman is adapted from Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, which is his adaptation of his own The Merchant of Yonkers, which in its turn is adapted from two much earlier plays, this determined, fictional Bobby Goldman (Nancy Opel) is the real-life Bobby Goldman’s adaptation of her own life.
Oh yes, the actual Bobby Goldman is the widow of playwright-author James Goldman (Follies, The Lion in Winter, A Family Affair with brother William), and she’s decided to tell the story—in song and dance—of how she went about going on after her husband’s death.
As you can see above, she’s named her protagonist after herself in order that this Bobby Goldman becomes an overtly autobiographical stand-in. It’s a bold gesture, because Goldman has to have decided she wanted to let other widows know that it can be done—but not, of course, without ups and downs, highs and lows. When you think about it, Thornton Wilder probably didn’t quite have Bobby Goldman’s goal uppermost in his mind.
Goldman’s is a noble gesture, and, with Drew Brody’s songs, she’s produced a mildly amusing entertainment that, for obvious reasons, will likely find its most appreciative audiences among other widows looking for hope, assurance and encouragement. The next contingent finding Curvy Widow beneficial will undoubtedly be the family and friends who want to give a gentle prod to a recent widow.
As the tuner’s Bobby confronts grief at the same time as she attempts to forge on, she’s very much a 2017 woman. She relocates from Fifth Avenue to a sumptuous downtown loft. (Rob Bissinger designed the swanky set.) She spends time with friends who do things like offering her anti-depressants and attending workout sessions. She consults a shrink, who encourages her to meet men.
Following his advice, she does a good deal of online dating-service dating—and consequently, encountering any number of men not worth seeing for a second date. Those unsatisfactory experiences take up a good deal of her time as well as the show’s time. And there are other fruitless adventures. For instance, she visits a drug store where she’s too embarrassed to purchase condoms. On another foray she’s handed an outsized diaphragm. (The not excessively funny sight gags do get laughs.)
Eventually, she meets a man of her dreams, and what happens then is intriguing enough not to be outlined here. Suffice it to say, this is likely the real Bobby Goldman’s story, but it may not be the resolution that spectators find entirely satisfactory.
Throughout Curvy Widow (the title is Bobby’s online moniker), deceased hubby Jim keeps dropping in sporting a rich-looking bathrobe and behaving with proprietary officiousness. Demanding that she not insult his memory by seeing other men, he is, needless to say, a figment of her guilt.
But what if, instead of dissuading her from looking for someone new, he prodded her, as some dying husbands do, to bring another man into her life? Okay, that’s another musical and not Goldman’s, but it’s a question that might cross many ticker buyers’ minds as they’ve tuned in.
Speaking of tunes, Opel powerfully sings almost every one of Brody’s as she takes the stage in a basic black outfit enhanced regularly by colorful jackets. (Costumer Brian Hemeseth has collected many and hung on the set’s capacious closet.)
Every once in a while Goldman is accompanied on the songs by the six supporting players (Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de Haas, Elizabeth Ward Land, Ken Land, Alan Muroaka, Christopher Shyer) stalwartly doubling and tripling.
Peter Flynn is the director and Marcos Santana the choreography, and they’ve certainly gotten everything out of the cast—especially Opel—and the material as they possibly can.