Donna Lynne Champlin and Jenny Fellner
in Marcy in the Galaxy
(© Carol Rosegg)
Donna Lynne Champlin and Jenny Fellner
in Marcy in the Galaxy
(© Carol Rosegg)
For many people, New Year's Day is something of a mixed blessing: not only is it a time of new beginnings, it can be a day filled with retrospection and regrets about the past. In Nancy Shayne's engaging tuner, Marcy in the Galaxy, being presented by Transport Group at the Connelly Theatre, a trio of characters converge on a Manhattan diner on January 1, filled precisely with these conflicted feelings.

Marcy (Donna Lynne Champlin), a painter from Detroit on the verge of 40 and still awaiting some sort of recognition for her work, has the most on her plate. The first anniversary of her father's death is approaching and she's unsure about returning home for the unveiling of the memorial stone at their father's grave. Given that she's recently quit her temp job, Marcy's also struggling to pay her bills. She's still hopeful though: she's even bought new pages for her Filofax and has a new cell phone.

As she sits in the diner (brought to the stage simply by scenic designer Sandra Goldmark), two bitterly cantankerous older women, Joyce (a dryly amusing Mary-Pat Green) and Dorothea (a comically acidic Janet Carroll), sit nearby and bicker, berate the waiter (Jonathan Hammond), and serve as sad exemplars of what might await Marcy should she not manage to pull herself out of her emotional and artistic rut. Meanwhile, Marcy relives a recent visit with her mother Peppy (Teri Ralston) and imagines her fraternal twin sister's (Jenny Fellner) disapproval of her life. Under director Jack Cummings' guidance, the temporal shifts in the action are clear -- and often the juxtaposition of past and present can be quite moving.

Shayne, who's penned both the score and book (based on a story co-written by Sex and the City scribe Michael Patrick King), establishes a potentially moving scenario, even if it remains somewhat unfulfilled. For instance, Marcy has switched from painting still-lifes to bleak, all-gray landscapes, and Shayne never adequately explains what caused her to justify such a distinct change in her art. Shayne also makes a particularly daring choice in that many of the melodies seem to be variations on one another. While Shayne may intend this to be a musical mirror of Marcy's stasis, the repetitiveness of the music can become uncomfortably monotonous, despite some terrifically heartfelt and well-crafted lyrics.

Throughout the show, Champlin is luminescent as the frustrated artist, even when she is at her lowest, and sings Shayne's lilting melodies with precision, warmth, and a wealth of emotion. Fellner proves to be equally deft and manages to ensure that Sharon's Midwestern practicality never becomes too harsh, while Ralston taps into wellsprings of compassion even as she mines the comedy inherent in this well-meaning, but sadly clueless character.

The scene that Ralston and Champlin share is one of the highpoints of the show. It's funny and touching, and most important, beautifully crisp. One hopes that Shayne might consider revisiting other sections of the piece so that this latter quality will extend throughout this potentially powerful musical.