Theatre: “Flying Over Sunset” at the Vivian Beaumont
(Setting: pre-pandemic, somewhere in NYC. Three musical geniuses—James Lapine, Tom Kitt, and Michael Korie—gather in a room to discuss a concept for a new musical.)
First guy: I’ve got it! What about a play where Aldous Huxley, Clare Boothe Luce, and Cary Grant meet in Malibu and do an acid trip together, some time in the 1950s?
Silence. Second guy (quietly): Um. Go on.
FG: Okay stay with me here. Then we cast Tony Yazbeck—great dancer—as Cary Grant, right? And Harry Hadden-Paton—you know, the guy from “The Crown?” He’s English. He could do Huxley. And Carmen Cusack—-
Third guy: Carmen who?
FG: She’s phenomenal, trust me. And we call it “Flying Over Sunset.” Because being on LSD means you’re kind of flying, right?
Silence. Then second guy: Sounds okay to me. What could go wrong?
In a word, everything.
A sad state of affairs, candidly, because FOS feels like it’s been put together with great care. Despite the fact that that the basic concept is nonsensical, the book is weak, and half the songs are so embarrassingly bad, you listen with your face in your hands. Not to mention that nobody wants to hear about someone else’s bad acid trip, nor the childhood memories it dredges up. Even if it is the brainchild of Messieurs Lapine, Kitt, and Korie.
Casting is curious. Cusack gives Mrs. Luce a Southern accent, which makes no sense because she was born and raised in New York City. Yazbeck, who looks fit and sings like a dream, gives Cary Grant an accent that’s worse than the one “Cary Granite” had in “The Flintstones.” Only Hadden-Paton gives Aldous Huxley a modicum of believability; the suavity with which he played Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” (2018) serves him well here.
Having said that, I hasten to add that even the worst musicals have their best moments. In FOS, most of them arrive when the dialog stops and the dancing starts. Atticus Ware (who plays the young Cary Grant, wearing a dress) does a tap-dance duet with Yazbeck that has the audience stamping its feet in delight. Mad props to choreographer Michelle Durrance for that. Hadden-Paton waltzes Laura Shoop to a lovely song called “The Music Plays On.” And I enjoyed the stagecraft of “Three Englishmen” where the ocean threatens to sweep three male characters out to sea.
I apologize profusely to anyone holding tickets for FOS and sincerely hope you enjoy it more than I did. And if you were concerned about missing turkey this Thanksgiving, don’t be. There’s one waiting for you on stage at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.