Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review: Happiness

Intriguing Concept Gets Derailed

By Lauren Yarger
If you had to choose just one perfect moment from your life in which to spend eternity, what would it be?

This is the question the stranded subway riders in Lincoln Center Theater’s off-Broadway Happiness must answer before they can leave a stalled train and embrace their destiny in a new musical by Scott Frankel (lyrics by Michael Korie; book by John Weidman, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.

For some of the 10 passengers, like elderly, wheelchair-bound Helen (a delightful Phyllis Somerville), the answer is easy. She remembers a night at a USO dance where she met a beau. In a nice swing number, she joins her perfect moment, circling the outer edge of the action unfolding then entering it by joining the dance with her former self and the boy who later was killed in action.

Suddenly, she’s gone and the others, with some quick explanation from cosmic subway car conductor Stanley (Hunter Foster), catch on that they are dead and the only way off the subway train is to find their "perfect moment" and avoid being a “blip on the comic radar." Unfortunately, at this point, the audience realizes it has to sit through nine more of these stories before the show and its seemingly unending, unimaginative songs will come to a close.

Others find their moments easily. Kevin (charming Fred Applegate) remembers a special day in 1954 at the ballpark with his dad; and fashion designer Maurice (an endearing Ken Page)remembers an exchange of vows between him and his partner dying of AIDS. For others, like conservative shock jock Arlene (Joanna Gleason) and shallow wannabe model Gina (Jenny Powers), one worthwhile moment is a little harder to come by. For shark-like lawyer Zach (Sebastian Arcellus), the question may not be answerable: he’s convinced he’s not really dead and isn’t supposed to be on the train he forced his way onto that morning.

Some of the characters are quite interesting, but because we have to whip through 10 stories, they’re gone before we get to know them very well. Others seem underdeveloped caricatures. Arlene is one of the most insensitive, uncaring, rude people you’ll meet (and Gleason’s delivery of some of her one-line zingers are a highlight), but she’s hardly believable as a conservative Christian, particularly when her perfect moment involves drugs and sex. Also fluttering around in an implausible perfect moment is bike messenger Miguel who ends up dancing and singing in a ridiculous number while dressed as the tooth fairy. And if that isn’t hard enough to swallow, husband and wife Neil (Robert Petkoff) and Cindy (Pearl Sun), apparently smart enough to be doctors, but not smart enough to remember basics about each other’s nationalities to impress their inlaws (he’s Jewish; she’s Chinese), sing and dance in an incredulous number about memorizing “family flashcards.”

In addition to all of the passengers, there’s also Stanley, who it seems couldn’t find his perfect moment on a previous cosmic subway ride, so he’s destined forever to guide others to their moments and to hoof it up in large show numbers involving oversized ladder props. He seems very hostile toward Zach, though we’re not sure why. Perhaps it’s the same frustration we feel at the derailing of an intriguing idea and a trainload full of talent. The show would have benefited by eliminating some of the songs and some of the less-interesting characters and focusing instead on a few like Zach, Helen, Kevin and Maurice, for example.

The set (Thomas Lynch) is noteworthy, though, as the subway car breaks away to reveal its interior and glides upstage to make room for the memories enacted. The band, located above the action on stage and under the direction of Eric Stern, also is quite good.

Happiness plays through June 7 at The Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St., NY. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250, or visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Homosexuality
• Lord’s Name Taken in Vain
• Sexual Act Depicted
Note: The idea of making the most of your moments might be a good conversation catalyst, despite the obvious departure from scripture regarding the afterlife.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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