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Theater Review: 'Sleepless In Seattle - The Musical' At The Pasadena Playhouse

Katie Buenneke |
June 3, 2013 | 12:41 p.m. PDT

Theater Editor

The musical adaptation of the Nora Ephron film is rather bland. Photo by Jim Cox.
The musical adaptation of the Nora Ephron film is rather bland. Photo by Jim Cox.
I probably set myself up for failure by re-watching "Sleepless in Seattle" two days before I saw its musical adaptation at the Pasadena Playhouse. The Nora Ephron film resides in the pantheon of Best Romantic Comedies of All Time for good reason—it features lovably neurotic characters in a slightly ridiculous, yet also plausible situation, and you can't help but root for them to get together. Unfortunately, "Sleepless in Seattle - The Musical," playing through June 23, has muted the movie's most lovable moments, reducing it to a generic set of tropes.

"Sleepless in Seattle - The Musical" follows the lives of Sam (Tim Martin Gleason) and his son Jonah (Joe West) after Sam's wife and one true love dies. On Christmas Eve a year after her death, Jonah, worried about his father, calls into a radio program and says he wants his dad to find another woman. As Sam talks to Dr. Marsha Fieldstone (Cynthia Ferrer), millions of women across the country fall in love with him, including Annie (Chandra Lee Schwartz). After some nudging by her friend, Backy (Sabrina Sloan), and under the pretenses of writing a feature about him in the Baltimore Sun, Annie reluctantly pursues the mysterious radio caller, who Fieldstone dubbed "Sleepless in Seattle."

The book for the musical adaptation was penned by Jeff Arch, one of the writers of the story on which the movie is based. Sadly, it lacks Ephron's acuity; what makes Ephron's characters so lovable is their specificity. Their inherent little quirks make them relatable. In the musical, however, their oddities have been muffled, but it's harder to root for a bland hero and heroine than it is to root for characters who remind you of yourself.

It's not just the book of the show that succumbs to triteness, though. The score (by Ben Toth and Sam Forman), like many other contemporary musical theater compositions, fails to distinguish itself from every other contemporary musical theater composition. Similarly, under David Epps' direction, the staging on John Iacovelli's unappealing set is bafflingly cliché. Too many moments in the show, be they from the book, score, or direction, seem to come more from a sense of obligation (i.e. this is what we're supposed to do now) than from any organically-motivated place.

There is one bright spot, though, and it comes in the form of Joe West as Jonah. The young actor is quite talented, and his second act numbers, "What She Wants to Hear" and "Be Here," end up being the most enjoyable of the show. Sabrina Sloan also makes as much out of the score as she can.

Sadly, though, West and Sloan's performances alone are not enough to redeem "Sleepless in Seattle - The Musical." The movie certainly has potential to be turned into a delightful musical, but this is not it.

Reach Theater Editor Katie here; follow her on Twitter here.

"Sleepless in Seattle - The Musical" is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse (39 S. El Molino Ave, Pasadena) through June 23. Tickets are $64-$107. More information can be found at PasadenaPlayhouse.org.



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