The cast of ‘Curvy Widow.’ (Photo Matthew Murphy)
By Matthew Wexler
Watch out, millennials, apparently 50-something is the new 20—at least according to Bobby Goldman (book) and Drew Brody (music and lyrics), authors of Curvy Widow, which opened tonight at the Westside Theatre/Upstairs.
Inspired by her real life widowhood (Bobby was married to famed screenwriter and playwright James Goldman, who penned The Lion in Winter and the book for Stephen Sondheim’s Follies), Bobby the character (played by Nancy Opel) follows much of the same trajectory as Bobby, the person. Which is to say, society has some growing up to do when it comes to acknowledging the needs and desires of women of a certain age.
Bobby jumps through emotional and logistical hoops as she attempts to get her life back on track, which includes moving out the couple’s stuffy Upper East Side apartment and setting up digs downtown; seeking treatment from her deceased husband’s analyst; and most prominently, re-entering the world of dating with the use of modern technology. It’s Bobby’s deep desire to reclaim her sexuality that drives much of Curvy Widow’s plot points as she joins Match.com, shops for condoms, copes with vaginal dryness, and dates an array of dysfunctional men.
Goldman’s book is smart and savvy, punched with one-liners that Opel delivers in spades. A true comedian with more than a dozen Broadway shows to her credit, Opel knows how to work the audience and rides Bobby’s ups and downs like an adept surfer hanging ten. And while this works for the majority of Curvy Widow’s fast-paced 90 minutes, it’s occasionally too slick and calculated, and one wishes that cast and audience alike could pause and take a deep breath.
Choreographer Marcos Santana (Associate Choreographer, On Your Feet!) collaborates with director Peter Flynn to finely tune the ensemble of six actors, who seamlessly step in and out of characters, costumes and set pieces that whiz about the stage. Rob Bissinger (set design), Brian Hemeseth (costume design) and Matthew Richards (lighting design) support the action with supremely creative designs that take advantage of the Westside Theatre’s intimate space, while Wayne Barker’s orchestrations and arrangements elevate Brody’s score to maximize the ensemble’s talents.
As Bobby continues to strike out on the online dating scene, she happens to meet a desirable suitor in real life. Per Se (played by Christopher Shyer), nicknamed by her friends after the famed Thomas Keller restaurant that he suggests for their first date, provides Bobby with an opportunity to step into a 2.0 version of the life she had before: as somebody’s partner. She chooses, instead (at least for now), a life of independence, singing:
I’ll go on vacation.
I’ll eat dinner in bed. And I’ll date if I want or I’ll fall asleep
watching the news.
Wherever I’m going, I’m OK on my own. It’s my decision. It’s my
direction. Point is: I choose.
This newfound independence is not for anyone to judge, exemplified by the show’s very last moment, which shows Bobby back at the computer, presumably on the hunt for more dates while letting the good one slip away. While the audience cheers, the supporting characters sing:
Curvy widow’s licking her lips. She’s shaking her hips.
Look out all you men across the world wide web.
Curvy widow’s got you in her sites!
Some might think that Bobby is acting like women half her age, without the wisdom that age affords. And she might agree. But that’s her choice, which is a hard pill to swallow when society has expectations of what a 55-year-old should or should not be. Fortunately, this curvy widow doesn’t really give a damn.
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For an exclusive interview with Nancy Opel, click here.
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @wexlerwrites.