ALBANY, N.Y. -- There is something of a retro feel to the new musical, "Single Girls Guide," and it's not always in the way the musical's creators, Tommy Newman (music and lyrics) and Gordon Greenberg (book), intend.
Set in 1966, "Single Girls Guide," which Greenberg also directed and which wraps up its world premiere run at Capital Repertory Theatre this afternon and evening, is loosely based on Jane Austen's "Emma."
Greenberg's Emma Woodhouse (a technically adept Kate Loprest) is the 29-year-old "Dear Abby"-style columnist at a failing newspaper owned by her father (an affecting Nick Wyman) and edited by her work-minded bachelor boss, Nick Knightley (a generally sympathetic Jonathan Rayson). But in a society in which gender roles are rigidly defined and the glass ceiling has never been lower, Emma seizes the opportunity, despite Knightley's objections, to convert her column into a single girls guide to having it all. Her inspiration is a letter from a Rhode Island dental hygienist named Harriet Smith (a thoroughly engaging Farah Alvin), who writes about the hopeless crush she has on a geeky delivery man.
Emma makes Harriet her project. She brings her to New York, pays for a makeover and sets her loose on the New York social scene, where she is instantly seized by the ultimate male chauvinst -- a smug, self-centered businesman named T.R. Elton (a caricaturish Kelsey Kurz), who owns a tobacco company and a newly acquired newspaper and has set his sights on Emma and eventually, her dad's paper.
Neither the course of true love nor career goes smoothly. It's not giving much away to say, however, that all bumps smooth themselves out by the final number.
There is virtually nothing in "Single Girls Guide" that is unexpected or unfamiliar. Newman's evocation of the sounds and rhythms of the mid-'60s is more derivative than original or witty and the rhyming schemes in his lyrics are as frighteningly predictable as the show's outcome.
Missed most in "Single Girls Guide" is a human element, a dimensionality that surfaces only on rare occasion but doesn't take control until three quarters of the way through the second act with Emma's introspective "The Girl With All the Answers."
Loprest's Emma is little more than an enigma throughout; profoundly incomplete in Greenberg's development of her. She may be the central character but she is no less a blueprint at the end of "Single Girls Guide" than she is at the beginning. She is at her best, both as a character and in Loprest's performance, in her scenes with her father. Her scenes with Knightley carry less bite and chemical inevitability than Greenberg would have us believe exists.
To his credit, Rayson does find some nuances, particularly in Knightley's affecting and revealing solo, "Without Her," and later a duet with Emma, "When It's Right."
Until Greenberg turns his character into a fool, Robb Sapp is endearing as Martin, the object of Harriet's affection, but it is Alvin whose Harriet positively holds the stage in a portrayal that finds heart and soul in a show desperately in need of both.
SINGLE GIRLS GUIDE. Book by Gordon Greenberg. Music and lyrics by Tommy Newman. Directed by Gordon Greenberg; choreography by Michele Lynch; musical direction, orchestration and additional music by Zachary Dietz; set design, Jo Winiarski; lighting design, Jeffrey Croiter and Cory Pattak; costume design, Dane Lafferty; sound design, David Thomas. Ends today. Eve.: Tonight 8. Mat.: Today 3. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany, N.Y. Tickets: $70-$16. (518) 445-7469; www.capitalrep.org. 2 hours 24 minutes Emma Woodhouse Kate Loprest
Nick Knightley Jonathan Rayson
T.R. Elton Kelsey Kurz
Henry Woodhouse Nick Wyman
Harriet Farah Alvin
Marvin Robb Sapp
Miss Simpkins/Truman Capote
Gladys/Flo Gwen Hollander