Tony-Nominee Nancy Opel is Deliciously Saucy as the Sexy “Curvy Widow”
BY SANDY STAGGS
Broadway veteran and Tony-nominee Nancy Opel (the original Broadway Penelope Pennywise in “Urinetown,” as well as “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Beautiful,” and “Honeymoon in Vegas”) leads an all-imported cast in North Carolina Stage Company’s world-premiere musical event “Curvy Widow,” about the adventure of a wealthy widow who enters the online dating scene after decades of marriage to her famous writer husband.
And it just happens to be a true story set to the enterprising music of composer Drew Brody, who has music currently playing on Broadway “Oh, Hello” starring Nick Kroll and John Mulaney.
Opel, in her firm, slightly-gruff Angela Lansbury vibrato, is businesswoman/playwright Bobby Goldman, widow of James Goldman, author of “The Lion in Winter” and “Follies.” She plays her cool and saucy, no holds barred from the very first number “Life With Jim” that covers a lot of exposition in a breezy montage and demonstrates Bobby’s life of privilege and business savvy before Jim’s sudden death.
But with therapy (and plenty of valium), she perseveres and dives back into the field of available men via Match.com, and eventually a hook-up site for a whirlwind of “slutdom,” as the author describes this period in the playbill.
Based on her life and one-woman show “The Curvy Widow” (which toured in 2008 with Cybill Shepherd), this musical adaptation astutely traces Bobby’s litany of stories about bad dates (savor the very rich and delightfully witty lyrics of “The Rules of Whittling Down” as she sorts through the response to her personal ad) amid the physiological journey of a maturing woman (“Gynecologist Tango”).
The rock/pop, maybe even folky music is winsome and catchy. Opel entices in the introspective “Another Version of Me,” and dazzles in the title song “Curvy Widow,” which Opel delivers gloriously with clout, sasssiness and all the stance and belting of Ethel Merman.
One of the highest points has the ladies (Andrea Bianchi, Laura Dean and MaryAnn Hu) as a doo-wop Greek Chorus in the marvelous high-brow “It’s Not a Match” (as Bobby trolls through a series of hapless and sometimes amusing dates) and again in Marcos Santana’s (Broadway’s “On Your Feet”) innovative choreography in yoga positions for “So.” Her trio of friends are, however, oddly somewhat younger and more early “Sex and the City” than menopausal, “Golden Girls”-bound.
And the fellows ‑ Tom Treadwell as Jim and other parts, Christopher Shyer as beau Per Se and others, and Philip Hoffman as the Shrink and others – add some spice in “Sex Ballet” and “Looking For.”
“Curvy Widow” is amusing in many respects and has moments of clarity in its dry humor, but its greatest flaw is that the subject matter doesn’t seem fresh. Online booty-calls were probably already part of our vernacular in 2008 in its genesis. And it is challenging to bear a lot of empathy or relatability to a horny, spoiled woman (with six dancing servants in the opening number) who considers living in Chelsea roughing it.
The stellar artistic team includes director Peter Flynn (“Funny Girl” 2002 revival, “Chess” and “On the 20th Century”); musical direction by Andrew Sotomayor (Pasadena Playhouse, Goodspeed Musicals, Lyric Theater) and orchestrations by Wayne Barker (“Peter and the Starcatcher,” “All About Me,” and “Dame Edna: Back with a Vengeance). Brian Hemesath (“Honeymoon In Vegas”) is costume designer.
The local design team from last season’s dazzling “Brave New World” unites for this production: the Cosmopolitan New York cityscape by scenic designer Andrew Mannion, CJ Barnwell’s lighting and Matthew Nielsen’s sound design. Jessica Tandy Kammerud is props mistress, Kenneth Horgan is technical director and Andrea Jess Berkey is stage manager.
“Curvy Widow” is still in development stage so it does have a raw, compact feel. Maybe with a larger cast with committed parts for Jim (who appears as a ghost occasionally) and her promising beau Per Se, a larger band with a fuller arrangement, more sex and cougar exploration, “Curvy Widow” will have leg appeal for the Great White Way. Kudos to NC Stage Company’s commitment to bringing world premiere projects like “Curvy Widow” to Asheville and keeping the pipeline to New York open.
“Curvy Widow” continues Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Nov. 20 at North Carolina Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane in Asheville. Call (828) 239-0263 or visit www.ncstage.org