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This Side of Paradise

This new musical about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald is deeply unsatisfying. logo
Rachel Moulton and Michael Shawn Lewis
in This Side of Paradise
(© Dixie Sheridan)
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were the "it couple" of the Jazz Age, not the jazz club scene of the 1950s. Hence, there's a grating chronological displacement at the heart of This Side of Paradise, the deeply unsatisfying new musical with songs by Nancy Harrow and a book by Harrow and director Will Pomerantz, now at the Theatre at St. Clements.

The Fitzgeralds' tragic marital crack-up is perhaps one of the most familiar sagas of the 20th Century, and you'll learn no new details here. It's tough to convey the true feel of genius on the fly, and Harrow and Pomerantz have overreached, with abysmal results. The prose is pedestrian and egregiously expository; the lyrics are simplistic, often veering on the inane.

Had they gone with Zelda's actual medical diagnosis -- schizophrenia -- rather than the depression on display here, the show might at least have been a bit livelier. The last thing you want is a morose narrator. Still, Maureen Mueller is actually quite effective in the role: her one solo "If I Want To" -- glancingly introduced at the outset and more fully developed in Act 2 -- makes a touching reprieve from tamped-down emotion. But in the interim she must moan on and on to an unusually attentive and sympathetic therapist (Michael Sharon) while "Young Zelda" (Rachel Moulton) acts out her hoydenish younger self.

There are at least two problems with this division of labor. To start, the dots aren't there to connect: How did this vain, frenetic little flibbertigibbet, with her trailer park accent, turn into Dina Merrill? (The elder Zelda is surely the most composed and dignified patient ever to grace a sanatorium: perhaps they've got awfully good meds.) Also disconcerting is the sight of Scott -- the valiant and fully committed Michael Shawn Lewis -- one minute flirting with a contemporary, the next picking up the romantic thread with a partner from another generation.

Troy Hourie's ineffective set -- wall segments that must be laboriously wheeled about to create barely distinguishable and not especially evocative settings -- adds to the sense of drag. There's some beautiful accompaniment coming from the jazz quartet in the corner, even if it sounds like a premonition of a musical style that has yet to evolve.

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