Off-Broadway Review: “Curvy Widow” at the Westside Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Curvy Widow” at the Westside Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday December 31, 2017)
Book by Bobby Goldman
Music and Lyrics by Drew Brody
Directed by Peter Flynn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After Bobby’s (Nancy Opel) writer husband Jim (Ken Land) collapses dead on top of his typewriter, she begins to deal with her loss facing “half a life” and realizing Jim has been “all [she’s] ever known.” No longer “in control,” Bobby begins to ask important questions: “Is it time to make choices yet? Start again at my age?” Or is this the end of a chapter and time to “turn the page?” After a move from the upper eastside to downtown, Bobby makes a follow-up visit to her husband’s “shrink” (Alan Muraoka) who makes “getting laid a medical directive” and creating a profile on a dating site a requirement. “Curvy Widow,” currently running at the Westside Theatre, is the autobiographical story of the musical’s writer Bobby Goldman who gives her name to the protagonist and her Match-Dot-Com handle ‘curvy widow’ to the fictional grieving dowager.

Bobby’s gaggle of friends Caroline (Andrea Bianchi), Heidi (Elizabeth Ward Land), and Joan (Aisha De Haas) offer their support and reinforce their mutual friend with encouragement and champagne, especially – after Match-Dot-Com and internet sex-sites – Bobby meets Per Se (Christopher Shyer) who respects her entrepreneurship and might be “the one.” The three friends deliver “The One” with a convincing bravura. And Nancy Opel (Bobby) and Christopher Shyer (Per Se) deliver their duet “What More Do You Need” with a convincing pathos.

Depicting the stages of bereavement with conversations with the “ghost” of one’s spouse is not a new convention and Ms. Goldman uses Bobby’s conversations with the departed Jim effectively. However, these rendezvous could be used by the playwright to provide more information about Bobby and her relationship with her late husband and answer intriguing questions about her likes and dislikes, her motivations, her successes in her lucrative construction business. Was Bobby happy in her thirty-year marriage? What kind of sacrifices did she make? There are hints that Jim might have been overbearing. How did Bobby manage to keep everything under control – or did she?

Nancy Opel’s Bobby is everything the character should be. Bobby identifies herself as “a writer’s wife” who grows into the realization that she needs to separate and individuate from Jim and their marriage – much like the adolescent separates from parents and childhood. Ms. Opel successfully navigates that emotional journey with honesty and authenticity. Her vocals are delivered with passion and exhibit an impressive range and interpretive craft. She is a joy to watch and listen to. Her solos “Turn the Page” and “Lying on the Bathroom Floor” are remarkable insights into the inner life of a spouse enmeshed in the turmoil that is bereavement.

The men in the cast portray several roles, none requiring a great deal of differentiation in character – except for the roles of Jim and Per Se. Ken Land’s ghost of Jim hints at some discord in his marriage leaving the audience wondering what other skeletons might be in the fictional Goldman closet. It would have been interesting for Jim redivivus to have a musical number. And Christopher Shyer’s Per Se is as seductive as he is the perfect caring mate for Bobby. Mr. Shyer’s duet with Ms. Opel is perhaps the climax of the musical and the opportunity for catharsis.

Bobby Goldman’s book could easily be fortified with deeper levels of exposition. Because this is at heart an autobiographical musical, more about the fictional Bobby and what moves her from grieving to living would be welcomed. Drew Brody’s music and lyrics are pleasing and successfully complement Ms. Goldman’s book. Peter Flynn keeps the musical moving at the proper pace and his staging is visually delightful. Rob Bissinger’s scenic design is more interesting downtown that uptown. Brian Hemeseth’s costumes and Matthew Richards’s lighting are visually pleasurable.

“Curvy Widow” is a charming and engaging exploration of the balancing act performed when navigating bereavement and discovering one’s “groove” and choosing the health of “new beginnings” and continuing life’s journey without fear.