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March 31, 2012

Why "Now. Here. This." is Not for Me

“What do you do,” a friend once asked me.  “If you don’t like something that everyone else likes?”  Well, we’re about to find out right now.  Because I really didn’t like Now. Here. This., the new musical by the creators of [title of show] that just opened at the Vineyard Theatre.  But lots of other people seem to be delighted with it, including Charles Isherwood at the Times, who declares the show “endearingly goofy” (click here to read his fawning review).

Of course, I’ve been down this street before because I wasn’t all that charmed by [title of show] (click here to my review of that).  But at least [title] had an amusing plot—the real-life story of how book writer Hunter Bell and composer Jeff Bowen put together a show with their friends Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff and managed to move it from the New York Musical Theatre Festival all the way to Broadway. And it also had some entertaining, albeit overly insidey, stuff about the world of show business too.

Now. Here. This. has loftier aspirations. In fact, it starts off with a spiel about the nature of the universe and each individual’s little spot in it. The show then invokes the  Zen-like teachings of the late mystical Catholic monk Thomas Merton, who encouraged his followers to focus on the present, which inspires the show's vainglorious title.

The rest of the 90-minute evening is filled with a series of musically annotated vignettes in which each of the quartet reflects on bad times in their lives—pretending to be straight, acting out for attention, overcompensating for seriously dysfunctional parents—and how he or she managed to overcome those situations in order to get to a New-Agey state of bliss.

But, of course, this kind of thing has been done before and, as anyone who has ever seen even a bus-and-truck version of A Chorus Line will tell you, it’s been done better.

I suppose Bowen’s songs are OK (click here to read a Q&A with him) although I don’t remember even one of them. But the book’s loose conceit of remembering the past incidents as the gang travels through the Museum of Natural History just seems silly and not worth the groaner jokes it provides. 

The actors, who are again playing themselves, are, as everyone always observes, likable. But they’re not remarkable singers or dancers and they haven’t found a way to make their personal problems theatrical or even interesting. “Who cares?,” my theatergoing buddy Bill asked as we stood outside after the show trying to makes some sense of what we’d just seen.

In many ways, Now. Here. This. seems like a production put on by well-meaning amateurs. Bell, the most winsome—and my favoriteof the four, even broke character the night Bill and I saw the show to wave at his dad in the audience.

It was a sweet moment.  But not nearly sweet enough to justify the price of the ticket.  And even less so since a friend of Bill's told him that Bell did exactly the same faux-spontaneous thing the night he saw the show.

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