I'M GETTING MY ACT TOGETHER AND TAKING IT ON THE ROAD, book and lyrics by Gretchen Cryer, music by Nancy Ford, directed by Amy Saltz, choreographed by Helen Kent, musican direction by George Broderick, costumes by Carol Oditz, lighting by Patricia Simmons, set by Pat Woodbridge, with Louisa Flaningam, Ralph Byers, Linda Langford, Paul Rosa, Robert Dodelin, Pete Kennedy, and Hal Trapkin.
At Ford's Theatre through Feb. 22.
In one scene of "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road," which opened Saturday at Ford's Theatre, the liberated nightclub singer who is the show's heroine pummels her unliberated manager and yells at him, "You're not ready for the NEW WOMAN, right?. . . . Don't you feel a sense of loss?"
"If this is an example of what I'm missing," the manager, Joe, replies, "I can't say I do."
By this point in the show the audience has been pummeled by the New Woman for a while as well. This moment is an example of what the show needs more of -- the New Woman laughing at herself, seeing briefly that it is possible that even the most ardent feminist might think she was coming on too strong.
"Act" is a small musical -- a cast of nine, about half of whom are musicians, no set to speak of, two hours of songs linked with a fairly simple story. It has many virtues, including an accomplished cast and some exciting numbers. Its basic flaw, however, is that the concept doesn't marry well with the medium of communication.
Authors Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, both actresses who have played the lead role of Heather Jones, a 39-year-old singer, wanted to write about the difficulties of an independent woman in relating to men and society, "universal struggles," power, etc. But dealing with these issues of a major societal revolution in musical comedy song and dance produces lyrics and lines that sound too often like leftover psychobabble.
"You gotta feel the pain, if you're gonna get through it," goes one lyric. "You don't accept me as a person!" Heather screams at Joe at one point. "Is it possible for men and women to have healthy and constructive relationships?" she wonders several times.And the cliches and stereotypes that are hauled out to make the point that women are constrained, restrained and strained by a male-dominated society would make Gloria Steinem blush. Thus Heather's father is an unfeeling boob who tells her not to act too smart around boys, her mother is a depressed housewife, her lovers all wimps who can't appreciate a strong woman. And the wives the lovers are married to are dependent simps who are incapable of doing anything by themselves.
It is hard to tell whether the authors intended the show to be satirical, a gentle poke at the rhetoric of the women's movement or an angry political statement. Too often Heather seems to be making announcements rather than expressing real feelings. And, curiously, the excessive use of profanity comes across as a macho gesture.
The setting of the show is that Heather, on her 39th birthday, is opening a new nightclub act in which she is going to "be herself" and sing about women being strong, Miss America and relationships instead of the "jello" love songs she had before. Her manager, a good friend, is appalled and thinks the act is "angry, offensive and confused." He wants her to go back to the glitz, explaining, "you've got to give 'em what they want first, then sneak up on 'em with your honest ----." Expressing her new-found power, Heather fires Joe, and he goes off to deal with an adulterous wife who has just tried to commit suicide.
Heather is proud to be 39, and Louisa Flaningam, who plays the role, certainly makes a 39-year-old woman at attractive, vibrant, terrific person, the way Alexis Smith in "Follies" made 50 look like the most fabulous age a woman could be. Flaningam, who will not reveal her own age other than to say "mid-30s," is as good a dancer as she is a singer, and although she was working a little too hard on opening night, she is able to make the most of a great part. Ralph Byers makes Joe a well-meaning if immature man who one hopes has plenty of money to pay for what obviously will be years of therapy ahead.
The show, which has played in New York off-Broadway since 1978 and has had productions in several other cities, is performed without intermission.
Ultimately, the flaw of this show is exactly what Heather is struggling with her manager about. He wants her to perform show-biz fluff; she wants substance. This show has taken substance and tried to make it show-biz fluff. It is entertaining, but don't expect wisdom.