Cockpit in Court says 'Hi' to 'Goodbye Girl' Broadway said a hasty farewell to this Neil Simon play, but its old-fashioned qualities work well in summer stock.

July 31, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Broadway may have bid a swift goodbye to "The Goodbye Girl" -- the 1993 musical Neil Simon adapted from his 1977 movie -- but Cockpit in Court is granting it an enthusiastic welcome.

Maybe the show's structure, with its perky songs (by Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippel) interspersed between bits of narrative, was too much of a throwback for brash Broadway. Maybe the plot -- an "Odd Couple" story about reluctant roommates who fall in love -- was too sentimental. Maybe the lack of special effects -- not a helicopter or crashing chandelier in sight -- was too austere. Maybe the tone was too cute.

But all these familiar, old-fashioned elements make "The Goodbye Girl" ideally suited to summer stock, a situation director-choreographer Todd Pearthree takes full advantage of in this lively Maryland premiere.

In case you missed or have forgotten the Richard Dreyfuss/Marsha Mason movie, the story concerns Paula McFadden, a former Broadway dancer and single mother. As soon as you hear Paula's opening song, "As Good As It Gets" -- and the lyric: "From now on, it's happy ever after" -- you know there's bad news in the offing.

Sure enough, Paula quickly discovers not only has her boyfriend left her, but he's also sublet their apartment.

The sublessee is Elliot Garfield, a Chicago actor to whom Paula takes an immediate dislike -- a feeling that proves mutual. Nonetheless, since she has no money and he has no place to stay, they agree to share the flat.

Jimi Kinstle and Liz Boyer, who play the feuding roomies, have been effectively paired by director Pearthree before, as the Baker and his Wife in "Into the Woods." Once again, he's cast as the nice guy, and she's the battle-ax.

But even though Paula's situation is more sympathetic -- after all, she's struggling to raise a child on her own -- Boyer's harridan portrayal makes Paula especially unappealing, an impression reinforced when she belts her solos through the production's unnecessary amplification system.

Kinstle's exuberant Elliot is rather endearing from the start. And our affection -- and Paula's -- increases in the hilarious scene in which, to his supreme embarrassment, Elliot makes his disastrous New York theatrical debut portraying Richard III as "a man playing a woman playing a man."

This scene is one of the stage version's few changes -- the voice of political correctness reacting to the movie's depiction of the monarch as flamboyantly gay.

The "Richard III" scene displays one of the musical's best plot- and character-development numbers, "Richard Interred," which shows us not only Elliot's humiliating falsetto performance, but also his backstage complaints to the director and the audience's stunned reaction.

(Bob Jones' revolving stage-within-a-stage set design confuses the various physical viewpoints.)

As in the movie, the portrayal of Paula's precocious daughter, Lucy, is one of "The Goodbye Girl's" assets. Thirteen-year-old Courteney E. Brown has an adorable, assured presence and holds her own in her duets and trios, one of which teams her with two other talented youngsters, Carly Amato and Sarah Fitzpatrick.

Much of the splashier choreography comes in scenes related to Paula's dancing career. But though designer James J. XTC Fasching's cleverest costumes show up in an infomercial in which Paula portrays the dangers of fried food, for the most part the dancing slows down the action.

Hamlisch and Zippel's catchiest tune is "I Can Play This Part," and the sentiment also sums up "The Goodbye Girl's" appropriateness for little theater.

Cockpit in Court's stock in trade is musical golden oldies. But in this case it's taken a chance on a slightly tarnished newcomer and found a way to let the show's small-scale appeal shine through.

'Goodbye Girl'

Where: Cockpit in Court, Essex Community College, 7201 Rossville Blvd.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $13 and $15

Call: (410) 780-6369

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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