Sarah Stiles, Bill Nolte, James Beaman, Keith Gerchak,
and Bruce Warren in The Road To Qatar
(© Carol Rosegg)
Sarah Stiles, Bill Nolte, James Beaman, Keith Gerchak,
and Bruce Warren in The Road To Qatar
(© Carol Rosegg)
In 2005, songwriters Stephen Cole and David Krane received phone calls asking them to create a musical comedy of Aida-like proportions for a first-ever Middle East premiere and threw themselves into a madcap experience that ended in their not being paid. While they may see The Road to Qatar, their new musical at the York Theatre Company, as gleeful revenge on their deadbeat employers, the 90-minute tuner feels more like they've taken out their unresolved frustrations on audiences by unleashing a relentlessly unentertaining show.

The Road to Qatar! follows Jeffrey (Keith Gerchak) and Michael (James Beaman), from the decision to accept the gig through their travels to Dubai, Qatar, London and Bratislava for recording the Qatar!score. (The latter trip serves as the script's sole amusing development.) Along the way, the put-upon team must deal mostly with emir-go-between Mansour (Bill Nolte), nubile translator Nazirah (Sarah Stiles, a Dorothy Lamour look-alike), and trouble-maker Farid (Bruce Warren, who also attempts to steal scenes as campy Italian director Claudio).

Unfortunately, Cole has larded his libretto with miserable jokes full of Jewish-mother, gay-men, Middle-East-stereotypes. Worse still, the pair have produced a score devoid of inspiration or much skill. It's not only that Cole and Krane can't summon numbers on the level of "Moonlight Becomes You," "But Beautiful," "Personality" and 'Road to Morocco" (featured in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope's hilarious, always topical Road series of films), but they insert two songs back to back -- "Must Be" and "Good Things Come in Threes" -- about what they plan to include in the plot of the opus they're expected to manufacture in six weeks.

Burdened with material this limiting, the cast can't be blamed for not rising to any commendable level, nor can director Phillip George, who has previously proved his mettle on several Forbidden Broadway editions. To George's credit, he does keep events moving with a certain spirit and sees that Gerchak and Beaman behave as if they're thrown by the rollercoaster ride they've embarked on.

Particular sympathy is extended to Beaman, who consistently must utter the lamest gags and who conscientiously faces the auditorium each time he delivers one. Meanwhile, Nolte, Stiles, and Warren, required to do numerous costumes changes, go about their business with commitment, even if without much payoff.

The wardrobe and functional single set are the handiwork of always imaginative Michael Bottari and Ronald Case, who also designed the several puppets, including a smiling emir, who appear towards the end of the piece. Well, someone (or something) has to be smiling, but it's not going to be theatergoers who have to travel this rocky Road.