Theater Review: ‘Sleepless in Seattle’
The 1993 romantic comedy “Sleepless in Seattle” has been turned into a stage musical that can best be described as pointless in Pasadena. “Sleepless,” the movie, ran on the fumes of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s charm and the slight conceit that they played lovers who didn’t really meet until the movie’s final minutes. If ever there were characters who had no need to sing, they are Sam of Seattle and Annie of Baltimore, the now-unfortunate would-be lovers of “Sleepless in Seattle — the Musical,” being given its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse.
In the musical “Sleepless,” it’s not clearly established in the beginning that Sam (Tim Martin Gleason) and Annie (Chandra Lee Schwartz) actually live in different cities, or that Sam’s wife is dead, or why he and son Jonah (the big voiced Joe West) take up residence on a house boat, or what Annie is doing in a bumper car at an amusement park. Oh, wait a minute, it’s not a bumper car at an amusement park. That’s the scene in the movie where Annie is driving and falls in love at first listen upon hearing Sam’s voice on the radio talking about his dearly departed wife, and the radio shrink dubs him Sleepless in Seattle. It helps if you’ve seen the movie before seeing the musical, which makes seeing this musical completely superfluous.
In good musicals, characters generally break into song because the emotional stakes are so high that merely speaking the words no longer suffices. That moment never arrives in the musical “Sleepless” because Sam and Annie spend most of their stage time with a girlfriend Victoria (Katharine Leonard) and a fiance Walter (Robert Mammana) they don’t much care about. Otherwise, they’re just kind of marking time, yearning half-heartedly for somebody or something.
In “West Side Story,” the Tony character lets us know “Something’s Coming.” But that’s Bernstein and Sondheim. With “Sleepless,” songwriters Ben Toth and Sam Forman gives us an array of song titles that define the word “generic”: “We’re Doing Fine,” “Stuck Here,” “We Can Make It,” “Look at Me Now” and “Something’s Calling Me.” There’s a word nobody uses anymore to describe these tunes: “jingles.” And when a character sings “a new inning,” you know that “spinning” and “beginning” are soon to follow. “Sleepless,” however, might be the first musical to use a song titled “Rock Stars” to describe two characters in mourning.
Book writer Jeff Arch (he cowrote the “Sleepless” screenplay with Nora Ephron and David S. Ward) substitutes the film’s famous tiramisu joke with one about mango mousse, but has neglected to write to two lead characters.
Under Sheldon Epps’ direction, a few of the supporting characters — charming in the movie — come off very abrasive and unfunny here. And the chorus is so hyper to find love with the much-reprised “Out There” — four offerings! — that you just wish they’d go on Grindr and get it over with.
Speaking of which, when Sam finally goes out on a date, it incites the wicked showstopper “Getting Hot in Here.” Who knew they serve dinner in Seattle sex clubs.