Marry Harry

Two 29-year-olds flirt with the idea of marriage.

David Spadora and Morgan Cowling star in Marry Harry, directed by Bill Castellino, presented by the York Theatre Company.
David Spadora and Morgan Cowling star in Marry Harry, directed by Bill Castellino and presented by the York Theatre Company at St. Peter's.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Marry Harry, a 2014 musical now being revived by the York Theatre Company at St. Peter's, is like a beautifully planned wedding for two boring people. Everything about it looks great: the outfits, the decor, the lighting…but there’s no avoiding the fact that Jennifer Robbins' book and Michael Biello's lyrics aren’t worth the effort.

Marry Harry concerns a young man named Harry and a young woman named — wait for it — Sherri. Harry is trying to escape his cooking job at his dad's restaurant for another cooking job at a more prestigious restaurant. Sherri is trying to escape her loving but domineering mother’s Park Avenue apartment for an apartment in Greenwich Village. From here, the title basically tells you where things are headed. Harry meets Sherri in an alley between his dad's restaurant and the bridal-wear store where she and her mom went to pick out a wedding dress. Sherri was engaged to a guy named Brandon, but forget him. She just found out he was cheating on her, and Harry is super-cute, so why not make a last-minute change in plans? Harry and Sherri go on a date that night (he cooks for her at his dad's restaurant, and naturally, the food is "amazing"), have sex on the restaurant floor, and minutes later, she’s proposing to him.

The joy of this production is the way it embraces its ludicrousness. And nothing about it is more ludicrous or more joyful than its ensemble, the Village Voices. This trio (played with verve by Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, and Claire Saunders) sings, dances, and hams its way into and out of scenes, invisible to the characters but entrancing to the audience.

The Voices not only echo and amplify the sentiments of the characters but also serve as a channel for the show's technical elements, notably Tyler M. Holland's Crayola-bright costumes, Paul Miller's glow-in-the-dark lighting, and Bill Castellino's tablecloth-twirling choreography. James Morgan's set, whose cutout buildings and blotchy blue sky suggest a children's picture-book, frames them charmingly.

As a director, Castellino combines these various ingredients with zest, as when the Voices materialize at the bridal store, each member (including the men — this is the Village, after all) clad in a different wedding gown, with price tag attached. Francine swirls between them, checking the prices, the dimmed lighting evoking the delirium of wedding planning.

Jesse Manocherian (far left), Claire Saunders, Ben Chavez play the Village Voices, and Robin Skye (far right) plays Francine.
Jesse Manocherian (far left), Claire Saunders, and Ben Chavez play the Village Voices; Robin Skye (far right) plays Francine.
(© Carol Rosegg)

If only the material all this inventiveness is lavished on had the same charm. Instead, it clunks with clichés. Biello's lyrics largely alternate between naming ingredients and regurgitating pap. Even Castellino can't find a way to freshen lines like "This must be love at first sight / We were meant to be." Robbins' book has its own clunkers, not to mention its plot contrivances, but it improves once it opens up the possibility that Sherri might not marry Harry. Yet only Dan Martin's music ever approaches the wit of the staging; Harry's paean to the Italian chef he dreams of working for turns into an aria, complete with vibrato.

Marry Harry is set in the present, but it vacillates between New York City as it really is and a retro distortion of it. When not spoofing Verdi, the score echoes Gershwin, but sound designer Julian Evans' traffic noises are those of 2017, not 1917. The book and lyrics, unsurprisingly, don't help matters, landing as they do somewhere between today and 100 years ago. Harry at one point sings to Sherri, "You're uptown / I'm down / You're rich / I'm not / You're royalty / I'm a regular Joe," as though the East Village were a blue-collar neighborhood.

The only character who manages to transcend this nebulousness is Robin Skye’s Francine. Skye creates a woman who is both tough as lacquered nails and tenderly devoted to her daughter. Morgan Cowling’s Sherri, by contrast, is sweetly bland. David Spadora as Harry is uneven, and Lenny Wolpe as his dad is overdone.

While Sherri is free to marry Harry if she wants, the real catches here are Skye and Castellino. If only they would elope and make a new musical that actually reflects present-day relationships…

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Marry Harry

Closed: May 21, 2017