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(l-r) Shannon Lewis, Janine LaManna,
and Rachelle Rak in The Look of Love
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The people who devise musical revues in tribute to specific songwriters ordinarily do so out of a profound love and respect for the catalogs they've chosen. This wouldn't appear to be the case with the misguided pack of talents who've conjured The Look of Love, a two-act glance at the infectious melodies and lyrics of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

The creators of this flashback to television's mindless Shindig days are David Thompson, Scott Ellis (who also directed), Ann Reinking (who also choreographed) and David Loud (who also musical directs). From the look of no love prevailing throughout the hyped-up proceedings, these four seem to have little regard for the men they're ostensibly toasting. Don't they trust the many one-time chart-toppers to speak -- that's to say, sing -- for themselves? Have they failed to understand the considerable amount of thought behind the lyrics that David set to Bacharach's rhythmically adventurous tunes?

In the songwriting team's "Alfie," a complex dramatic monologue that stands with the best ever written, David writes: "When you walk, let your heart lead the way." Thompson, Ellis, Reinking, and Loud haven't followed that advice; more often than not, they've simply let concentration on their own narrow impulses dictate personality-free treatments of the astonishing Bacharach-David canon.

During the songfest (as in "festering," not "festival"), they send out nine singers and dancers singly, doubly, and in larger groups to caterwaul and prance through ditty after ditty, uninterrupted by dialogue and also virtually uninterrupted by intelligent reflection on what the songs have to say. In more than one instance, the choreography that Reinking has concocted in her familiar, Bob Fosse-cloned, shoulders-back-pelvis-forward manner is actually at odds with the songs. The conceit of the production is that the many moods of love recognized by Bacharach and David might be grouped so as to form an accessible arc of songs, but the true conceit is the creators' own: They've placed their own impoverished notions before those of Bacharach and David.

The tunesmiths penned lot of playful, seductive, sexy songs in their heyday -- many of them for their interpreter of choice, Dionne Warwick. But they always eschewed vulgarity, which is exactly where Reinking, Ellis and colleagues all too often start and finish. One example of this grievous tendency is "Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa," during which a femme fatale oozes across the bar in a dive populated by four wide-eyed men. And in the jaunty "What's New Pussycat?" which Bacharach and David designed with tongue in cheek, Reinking indulges in a weird form of self-love by instructing three Reinking lookalike-dancealikes -- Shannon Lewis, Janine LaManna, and Rachelle Rak -- to coil on folding chairs as if they were performing a sequence cut from Chicago because it was considered too seamy. The move that Reinking requires as the ladies sing the song's final word, "lips," represents a new mark in stage effrontery. (The ladies draw attention to their crotches on two other occasions, once while chanting the word "hug.")

Anyone listening to the songs as they accumulate might well wonder if the singers were directed by Ellis to study what they're intoning. Beginning with the big and big-voiced Capathia Jenkins, who opens the show by grinning throughout the revue's title song, the cast members thoughtlessly belt David's lyrics. The dissing continues in "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me," sung by Eugene Fleming, Jonathan Dokuchitz, and Kevin Ceballo in such a way that the words seem to mean nothing to any of them. "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" is rendered in Spanish by Ceballo as Shannon Lewis writhes, all of which serves to split focus and to negate any message the song might contain. Similarly, "Trains and Boats and Planes" is chanted and slinked by Desmond Richardson as if the sentiments in the lines aren't worth the time they take up till he can cut loose. Ceballo delivers "Anyone Who Had a Heart" as if he's trying to ace the final round of American Idol. "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is imagined as a mindless tap dance for Eugene Fleming and Desmond Richardson. (Are they supposed to be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?) Shannon Lewis dances through a mostly lyric-less arrangement of "Wives and Lovers," probably because the song's pre-feminist views are now considered non-P.C.

The songs not totally botched here are sung mostly by the redoubtable Liz Callaway, who realizes that the above mentioned "Alfie" is one woman's impassioned, desperate attempt to make an insensitive lover examine his soulless actions. Callaway also understands that "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" and "One Less Bell to Answer" are the outpourings of real people with recognizable emotions. Jenkins and Dokuchitz also mange to get in touch with some honest feelings despite the evening's unsympathetic atmosphere: She becomes properly outraged during the caustic "Make It Easy on Yourself," while he digs into one of Hal David's true triumphs, "A House is Not a Home."

(l-r) Eugene Fleming, Kevin Ceballo, and Jonathan Dokuchitz
in The Look of Love (Photo © Joan Marcus)
None of the cast members look fetching in Martin Pakledinaz's unprepossessing costumes, presumably engineered to evoke the "swinging '60s" period when Bacharach and David were writing their biggest hits. Nor do the performers look comfortable negotiating Derek McLane's set, which features two curvilinear stairwell cages. (Think high-security prison designed by Frank Gehry.) Lighting designer Howell Binkley and sound designer Brian Ronan acquit themselves more than competently; this is particularly important in Ronan's case, since he has to properly mix the voices of the on-stage performers plus those of pit singers Farah Alvin and Nikki Renée Daniels.

Musical theater lovers know that Bacharach and David only wrote one Broadway score, Promises, Promises, and that -- even though that show was a hit -- Bacharach was disinclined to try again. So it's too bad that The Look of Love is such an embarrassment. Perhaps it could have been avoided if the Roundabout powers took a good, hard look at how it came to be. And perhaps it's time for the company to review associate artistic director Scott Ellis's track record. This fellow made his name with another revue, And the World Goes Round, for which Susan Stroman provided the choreography. Since then, Ellis has done acceptable duty with Arthur Miller's Man Who Had All the Luck but not on much else. He certainly didn't light up the stage with Steel Pier -- for which, incidentally, David Thompson supplied the libretto. Earlier this season, Ellis helmed the Roundabout's static Boys From Syracuse revival. And now this.

One concluding comment on what Ellis, Reinking, Thompson, and Loud have wrought in The Look of Love -- and it goes out on behalf of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose reputations could be adversely affected by this miscalculation. That comment is: "Boo!"

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