The book and lyrics are by the writers of the sit-com Friends and the music by an assortment of songwriters including Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Unlike most musicals it is a collection of sketches and scenarios that paint a picture of modern New York dating with all its pitfalls and delights. A number of the characters place adverts in the personal columns of newspapers and wait to find love, but the results range from disappointing to downright strange. Some of the jokes seem way too obvious – dwarves, s and m, people suddenly announcing they are gay – and have been done better elsewhere. But there are also some genuinely good comic scenarios, including a polygamist whose spouses get together to confront him about the amount of time he spends with another group of people. There are also a number of sketches about a man who is learning what to do on a date by listening to self help tapes, which just end up turning him into a nervous wreck.
In its theme and some of its scenarios, Personals enters territory that the writers have already been to in Friends. Some scenes are ones that might easily have come from that programme – thirtysomethings who are scared of commitment and still trying to live like they did ten years before. Sometimes one gets the feeling that a musical from the writers of Friends should be funnier, which isn’t to say that Personals fails to amuse; it just might not live up to expectations.
The set is minimal with only the most essential of props being used for each skit and with a black background featuring the New York skyline drawn with chalk. It is refreshing to see a musical which is stripped back and sparse, not relying on lavish sets or sequins to grab the attention of the audience. There are some very strong performances and the cast of six do well slipping between different characters and moods.
The show’s music is generally good and includes a few songs that are excellent. Among these are Stephen Schwartz’s ‘Nothing To Do With Love’, Alan Menken’s ‘I’d Rather Dance Alone’, as well as ‘A Night Alone’ and ‘Some Things Don’t End’ (Schwartz), which aims to finish the show on a positive note that is not altogether convincing.
Maple Giant Theatre is committed to bringing local talent together to deliver cutting edge productions. Whether or not it is uplifting, it is an entertaining show, a musical with a difference, and a chance to see some highly talented performers.