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Jacquelyn Piro and James Ludwig in Suburb
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Opening a musical called Suburb in midtown Manhattan is a bit like opening a kosher deli in downtown Damascus. One of the biggest laugh lines early in this show comes when a New York woman responds to her husband's suggestion that they move out of town by swearing a blue streak at him. The sentiments of the audience are clearly on her side. But this tuneful little musical at the York Theatre wins us over with an even-handed charm that neither totally knocks The City nor unquestioningly glorifies The Burbs.

Part of the show's success is due to the fact that the book by David Javerbaum and Robert S. Cohen is centered on two love stories. We start out commuting between these relationships and witty numbers about suburban living; soon, the songs and the couples merge into one gently entertaining story. The other elements of Suburb's success include music (by Robert S. Cohen) that is sweetly melodious, lyrics (by Javerbaum) that are often sophisticated and clever, and a strong cast that infuses this character-driven work with real musical comedy effervescence.

Right after the show begins, however, you might find yourself eyeing the exit doors. The curtain-raising number, "Directions," is clichéd and generic; you fear you're about to see a very tired revue. But then we begin to meet the show's characters, and the generic becomes specific. Suburb is galvanized by the appearance of Rhoda, a wonderfully pushy real estate agent played by the combatively comic Alix Korey. This lady won't be denied: When she sings about "The Girl Next Door," she's singing about a girl you'll never forget--herself. Happily, the show has quite a few genuinely winning tunes, ranging from wistfully comic solos ("Mow") to haunting, complex group numbers ("Commute"). When it pokes fun at suburban rituals, as in a tribal number titled "Barbecue," Suburb does so with warmth. Though never cloying, the show has an affectionate attitude toward its subject, such as when the members of the ensemble join together as a group of singing waiters called The Chive Tones to schmeer "The Bagel Shop Quartet."

Veteran performer Dennis Kelly (he was the older Joe in the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees) adds dignity and depth to Suburb. Playing a widower who intends to sell his house and move to Florida, Kelly sings with great feeling and acts with a light touch. As the young husband who wants to move out of the city, James Ludwig displays a winsome, boyish quality and an easy way with a ballad. Jacquelyn Piro plays his pregnant wife and, though she's a rather obvious actress, her singing is vibrant.

Ron Butler, Adinah Alexander, James Sasser,
and Jennie Eisenhower in Suburb
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
A talented, four-person ensemble supports the lead actors. Among their number is James Sasser, whose fine, varied work deserves special notice. Adinah Alexander and Ron Butler provide sturdy support as well. Jennie Eisenhower, the much-ballyhooed descendant of two presidents, is the fourth member of the ensemble. She isn't as strong as the others, but she isn't stunt casting, either; her performance is energetic and credible.

Directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray with a simple stylishness, the show moves along at a nifty pace. John Carrafa's choreography serves the songs well, and he provides Suburb with just the right amount of kinetic energy. Kris Stone's set design--particularly for the mall scene--is economical and cute, while Jan Finnell's costumes seem to come (amusingly) right out of that mall.

Suburb is a slight but satisfying musical that shines a spotlight on Javerbaum and Cohen. The show won for this songwriting team the prestigious Richard Rodgers Development Award for the year 2000, and the musical theater is greatly in need of their kind of talent.

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