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In My Life

Writer-director Joe Brooks has perpetrated a repugnant musical that deserves to close on opening night. logo
Jessica Boevers and Christopher J. Hanke
in In My Life
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Some people insist there are certain subjects that shouldn't be turned into musicals, but I disagree. I think it's completely within the realm of possibility that a stunning tuner could be created about a protagonist with Tourette's Syndrome who meets a young Village Voice employee who may be suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and successfully dates her despite his occasional obscene outbursts and sudden tremors.

Yes, I'm sure that a great show could be written in which the Tourette's-afflicted major figure has also lost his mother and 12-year-old sister in a freak traffic accident and, having fallen in love with the Voice personals-listings staffer, discovers that he's got a life-threatening brain tumor. I'm convinced that a simultaneously entertaining and enlightening song-and-dance piece might be crafted wherein the Tourette fellow's fortunes are in the hands of a couple of celestial figures caught between the pull of operatic tragedy and music-hall comedy.

But it would take a genius to turn this clutch of plot points into something magnificent, and Joseph Brooks -- sometimes known as Joe Brooks -- isn't the guy. Brooks is the author and director of In My Life, a musical involving all of what's described above. Rather than crafting a superb addition to the musical comedy canon, he's perpetrated a repugnant show that deserves to close overnight but could be kept going for weeks -- maybe even months! -- by ambulance chasers racing to see for themselves if this startling Broadway entry is as awful as word-of-mouth says. (It is.)

When a disaster such as this opens, it's natural to wonder, "What were they thinking?" With In My Life, the head-scratching begins with the title. Why on earth did Brooks decide to call his show "In My Life" when John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote an "In My Life" that's not only much better song than anything in the Brooks tuner but is also much better known? Maybe he thought that, in a season when Lennon was also enticing consumers (if only briefly), he should compare himself to the rock icon; to paraphrase one of Brooks's true clicks, he'd light up his own life.

This was not to be, even if some of the show's creative elements are admirable. Catherine Zuber's costumes, particularly those for a Lucifer-like angel, are playful. Christopher Akerlind's lighting is, as usual, creative. Wendall K. Harrington's projections are helpful in creating recognizable Manhattan neighborhoods. Tom Watson has contributed a few funny wigs to the proceedings.

And there are the performers, each one of them behaving as if he or she is in the next Spamalot when, in actuality, they're toiling at something that has joined Portofino, Via Galactica, and Carrie on the list of all-time musical stupifiers. As the lovers who are earnestly attempting to overcome obstacles, young and pretty leads Christopher J. Hanke and Jessica Boevers, emote without ever letting on what they must really be thinking. Playing characters called J.T. and Jenny, they deserve Purple Hearts for service above and beyond the call of duty. David Turner, who looks to be made from parts left over from the creation of Johnny Depp and Alan Cumming, flits and floats enthusiastically as the loopy angel Winston. (He gets to wear Zuber's catchiest flights of fancy.) Michael J. Farina, stocky and peppy, is a bike-riding deity who goes by the name Al; and Chiara Navarra as Vera, a preteen stuck in heavenly time, sings as the spectacular Eden Espinosa must have done when she was this age.

But all of this is pretty much for naught, since Joe Brooks' work hits a Perfect 10 on the awfulness scale. Brooks has been quoted as saying that his score is "the best music you've heard in your life." Well, it isn't -- not that it's particularly bad, but it's highly derivative. Much of it sounds like the sort of diluted ditties you hear in commercials that rip off hit tunes. The Brooks mega-hit "You Light Up My Life" had some indefinable something that nothing here has, including the dreary title song, a couple of jingles for Volkswagen and Dr. Pepper that have been shamelessly shoehorned into the action, and a series of unfunny comedy songs for Winston and his backups. There's even less to say about the libretto; little goes on with Jenny and J.T. until Brooks feebly throws in the gratuitous tumor as a stakes-raising device. The scenes set in heaven fit awkwardly with the earthbound (pun intended) proceedings. Unfunny? Unmoving? You'd better believe it.

Throughout In My Life, songwriter J.T. compulsively rhymes. Upon meeting Jenny, he tells her that she's got a "bad rhyming name," explaining that "only two words rhyme with Jenny: penny and many. That's it." Oh, yeah? What about "any?" A songwriter worth his salt and our time would likely know that but, apparently, neither J.T. nor Joe Brooks deserve to be placed in that category.

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