I saw *Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice* at the New Group (off Broadway) on 2/1/20. It's a brand new musical adaptation of the extraordinary 1969 movie, with music by Duncan Sheik, lyrics by Sheik and Amanda Green, and a book by Jonathan Marc Sherman. I guess I'm officially a fan of Sheik, since this is the fourth show of his I've seen and loved: *Spring Awakening,* *American Psycho,* *The Secret Life of Bees,* and now this. I think a big part of it is that I like the projects that he chooses, but I wouldn't keep coming back if I didn't like what he does with them. He knows what he's doing. I'd say the trickiest thing about a musical is making the transition from dialogue to song, which might at its heart be about choosing the best moments for the songs - - he handles that beautifully.
I've been a fan of the movie for many years. I think I might have invented the term "frozen in amber" to describe this movie - - it's a movie (or TV show or whatever) that is more than just a movie, it becomes a cultural artifact, a perfect snapshot of the time. *Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice* is a fascinating documentation of the attitudes, hang-ups, fashions, hairstyles, and décor of that precise moment in California.
Sheik and Sherman made the wise choice to pare the story down to the four characters, the two married couples. I'll use the names of the actors from the movie, to make it easier for those of you who know the movie:
Bob: Robert Culp, movie / Joél Pérez, musical
Carol: Natalie Wood, movie / Jennifer Damiano, musical
Ted: Elliott Gould, movie / Michael Zegen, musical
Alice: Dyan Cannon, movie / Ana Noguiera, musical
The show opens with Bob and Carol in their car, driving to an EST retreat. Carol turns on the radio and we're given the first song in the show, "The Wind In My Hair.* Sheik captures the breezy, groovy, FM radio vibe of the music of the time, but he does it in an honest way, it's not ironic or cheap. The biggest thrill of this song (and of at least one song in each of Sheik's shows) is the sublime vocal arrangement. I can't WAIT to get the original cast recording of this show, just so I can listen to this song over and over.
There was one other member of the cast, and that was Suzanne Vega as the Band Leader. Yes, Suzanne Vega, singer/songwriter of the 80s and 90s. Her name is still Luka, and she still has that red hair! Her character sort of filled in the blanks: she was the singer on the radio, she was the voice of Alice's psychiatrist, many other small roles over the course of the show. It was a thrill to see her/hear her live, I was crazy for her first two albums and have a soft spot in my heart for her.
One of the surprises of the show was how the balance of focus shifted from the movie to the musical. In the movie it feels like Bob and Carol are the central couple and Ted and Alice are slightly secondary. This might be because Natalie Wood, as Carol, was the biggest star of the four, but writer/director Mazursky seemed to treat Ted and Alice as sort of comic relief. In the musical, Alice feels like maybe not the central character, but definitely the most dynamic character. Ana Noguiera totally nailed the mixture of cuteness, sexiness, confusion, and repression of Alice.
I had seen Joél Pérez in a small role in *Fun Home,* he was fantastic in this. He and Jennifer Damiano had wonderful chemistry as Bob and Carol, they really conveyed the intimacy of a married couple.
Michael Zegen was the member of the cast I was most excited to see - - I know him as Midge's husband/ex husband on *The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.* He was good in this, not afraid to be goofy. And I don't want to be crass, but it was a treat to see four such gorgeous young bodies onstage.
Now I'm wondering what Sheik's next show will be...