For a musical that revolves around cooking, A Taste of Things to Come simmers but barely ever reaches a boil. It moves in fits and starts, teasing tension but then squashing it with a song and then moving on. A new play making its world debut at the Bucks County Playhouse this month, it is, to use another culinary metaphor, half-baked.
Perhaps it’s ludicrous to deride a musical for having too many musical numbers. However, the eight 1950s pastiches in the first 50 minutes are just too much. Even given the production’s frenetic pace, they crowd the narrative rather than help it along. When there’s finally a few straight minutes of dialogue, the action gets to breathe and become engrossing for a moment.
I also doubt I’m part of the intended demographic group. The Girls Night Out-style revue, is billed as “A saucy new musical” and centers around four 1950s housewives with an earnest but ramshackle home cooking club. But that’s not what made A Taste of Things to Come so frustrating. Instead, it’s that the premise is so strong and the setups so tantalizing, but the follow-through on each are virtually nonexistent.
Writers Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin pose interesting questions about the characters’ relationships and ideas about the world at large, but consistently shy away from exploring the answers. The songs reiterate the scenarios rather than offer resolution or further meditation, and only a few had truly memorable hooks. If they had chosen to keep it all more lightweight, or drop a few ideas in return for fleshing out the ones they kept, it would have worked a lot better.
The script’s potential was only highlighted by the great production at the Playhouse. Steven C Kemp’s sets are vibrant and nuanced, and make great use of a projection screen that usually serves as a window but occasionally displays vintage commercials and television clips. The elements here complement Dana Burkart’s sharp costumes, working together to let the actors stand out from each other and visually almost jump right off the stage.
Allison Guinn, in particular, delivers a vital performance as the harried Dottie, the only housewife with kids yet, let alone four. Her character, flawed as she is, provides an emotional, ultimately selfless, center none of the others possess. Guinn fleshes this out well, especially when she blends comedy with desperation and a hint of self-destruction on her song Just in Case. Later, she even nails a few pratfalls for good measure.
With all that going for it, hopefully the current production of A Taste of Things to Come could be just what the titles says it is. The musical could use, as one character says, “A little more spice, even when the recipe doesn’t call for it.” But as it stands, the musical is, as another puts it, “Just us girls, right here, right now.”
A Taste of Things to Come plays at the Bucks County Playhouse, through Feb. 21. For information, visit http://www.bcptheater.org.