Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger in ROOMS
(© Carol Rosegg)
Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger in ROOMS
(© Carol Rosegg)
Paul Scott Goodman knows how to start a show. The first riffs of his score for ROOMS, the new two-handed tuner at New World Stages, pulse with infectious theatre rock energy. Unfortunately, this self-styled "rock romance" almost immediately turns into a mirthless melodrama full of backstage clichés not even worthy of an episode of Behind the Music.

The show's set-up is simple: Monica (Leslie Kritzer) and Ian (Doug Kreeger) meet in Glasgow in the late 1970s. She's a Scottish-Jewish-Princess/lyricist and he's a misanthropic mope/composer. (Thudding dialogue quickly intrudes with a couple of British cusses to let us know we're not dealing with Americans.) Yet, somehow, Goodman (who wrote the book, music, and lyrics) and his wife Miriam Gordon (who shares bookwriting credit) have found nothing lively in sex, booze, and rock-and-roll.

It's not the innocence of the characters that accounts for the show's emotional inertia, nor is it lack of personal feeling. Indeed, the problem seems to lie with the musical material, which tries to blend rock and theater, yet doesn't hold up as either. The uncomfortable amalgam yields a series of naïve musical nothings linked by some fatty connective tissue -- a book littered with punny and unfunny jokes, such as Ian consistently calling his partner Mon when she prefers to be called Monica.

At least Kritzer -- a deft comedienne -- gets one moment to shine, delivering a Bat Mitzvah commission that becomes a comical coming out party. Meanwhile, Kreeger has not a single choice song to deliver; and director Scott Schwartz allows him to affect a twitchy, sullen physicality and hoarse whisper (not to mention an unconvincing Scottish accent) that draw upon the most limited, unappealing parts of his vocal range.

While Goodman and Gordon clearly seem to believe everyone will relate to ROOMS, no one who has ever left his or her childhood bedroom and discovered life that is more complex than a mawkish A-section will likely care.