Kevin Mambo and Asa Somers in Once Around The Sun
(Photo © Jason Woodruff)
Kevin Mambo and Asa Somers in Once Around The Sun
(Photo © Jason Woodruff)
Hooks come easily to Robert Morris, Steven Morris, and Joe Shane, who wrote the score for the new musical Once Around the Sun. They're derivative songwriting hooks, to be sure; the 14 numbers treading on each other's heels in the two-act endeavor owe plenty to Beatles melodies and harmonies, this homage being paid 35 years after the one-time moptops disbanded. The Morris-Morris-Shane trio has even taken a backward glance at Broadway power ballads: A ditty with heavy-duty torque called "Fool Like Me" is a late model "What Kind of Fool Am I?" But "Something Sentimental," which shoots the musical's protagonist to the top of today's nervous charts, sounds like something that could actually enchant iPod owners. A Whitney Houston wannabe-hit dubbed "Love and Live On" also gives the impression that it could be added to the Jack playlist, largely because Maya Days as a diva who's battling vocal problems nails it to the auditorium's back wall.

Hooks come less easily to librettist Kellie Overbey. For her record-biz tale of woe, she's grabbed a hoary plot line and shaken it until the moths have flown out -- but not all of them. Once Around the Sun tells of the members of a struggling rock band hoping to become the sort of platinum-CD icons who are regularly invited to Clive Davis bashes. Is their mainstay songsmith enticed to leave the group and go solo? Check. Is his head turned by a big-time star offering him big-time exposure and bling? Check. Does he go to Hollywood and fall in with a hard-nosed mogul? Check. Is he threatened with forfeiting his individuality and turning into a cookie-cutter entertainer? Check. Does his romance with the famous lady gain him publicity but ultimately sour? Check. Is the girl back home still on his mind? Check. Does he then think about chucking the good life and simplifying? Check.

The particulars this time around are that Kevin Stevens (Asa Somers) leaves colleagues Ray (Kevin Mambo), Dave (Jesse Lenat), and singing fiancée Skye (Caren Lyn Manuel) when Top-40 favorite Nona Blue (Maya Days) catches one of the band's late-night sets and gets all tingly over Kevin. Leaving behind a group that's been performing under the retrospective moniker B-Side, and also leaving behind the wedding and bat mitzvah gigs that keep him and his pals in rent and food money, Kevin flies to Hollywood. Once there, Guy Lomax (Lenat again) signs him to the label that he's started with semi-retired Nona, and Kevin clicks on the charts with "Something Sentimental."

That's all you need to know about the sorry plot; indeed, it's what been known about that old saw since long before Ann Miller left Fred Astaire in the lurch at the beginning of Easter Parade. No fresh breeze blows through the tale in Overbey's treatment; all the talk of making it and not making it, particularly in a piano bar confrontation scene between Kevin and bibulous uncle Lane (John Hickok), is as stale as piano-bar air is supposed to be. Overbey forgets to include Nona and Kevin's Norma Desmond-Joe Gillis-style fallings out, but maybe she figured that we've seen it all before and don't need to see it again. (She's right.)

Little about the production's look distracts from the barren center. Beowulf Boritt's set -- what there is of it -- is as drab as the script's proceedings, and Jason Lyons' lighting is merely okay. The sound design attributed to T. Richard Fitzgerald and Carl Casella goes heavy on the amplification, which is par for the rock-sound course. There are also awkward (and uncredited) projections. Most of Daniel Lawson's costumes are also no more than okay, though Nona sports a spectacular outfit when presenting a Grammy (to guess who!) that looks as if it were made from a half dozen feather boas. The outfit turns into something entirely different for a subsequent Nona turn. (This sartorial trick is also old; it's been seen in Dreamgirls and most recently in the La Cage aux Folles revival.)

Once Around the Sun is directed harmlessly by Jace Alexander. If the show has anything to recommend it other than the appealing score, it's the singers who've been handed the songs. With the exception of Lenat, who's perfectly fine and does a terrific job as Guy Lomax, they all have prodigious voices. Somers sells whatever he intones in a sweet baritone. Manuel makes it seem that singing is something she loves better than anything else. Mambo is funny in "G-I-R-L," a number in which the word and the letters making it up are the entirety of the lyrics. (It's an easy satirical ploy, but it works.) Hickok makes a convincing case for "Fool Like Me," and Days gives radiance a bold, new look. Otherwise, the only phrase appropriate to this musical is "Get the hook!"