I was one of the lucky ones: a woman who actually got married at an age when I was more likely to be struck by lightening (twice!) than take that trip down the aisle … or so the annoying statistic goes. As I watched my 30s rapidly skedaddling in my rear-view mirror I looked around at the landscape of men and – like main character Layla of The Show Goes On Productions How To Marry A Divorced Man – saw a lot of prospects before me who were either gay, already married, or came with a whole lot of baggage. So, what’s a great single gal to do?
And what if you do find that perfect guy? Chances are if he’s in his 30s he’s probably been married, has kids and has been through the ringer — the kind of guy who should come with his own instruction manual. Which is why Leslie Fram’s book of the same name is such perfect fodder for a musical comedy. Using her book How To Marry A Divorced Man as a guide, the story practically writes itself. The show is currently in development and I attended a Rock Musical Reading which gave a delightful work-shopping of a production filled with catchy songs (by Bryan D. Leys and Clare Cooper), fun characters, identifiable situations and an all-around good time at the theatre.
The story begins with Layla (Christine Marie Heath) – a beautiful, successful woman who, after years of following around rock bands to further both her personal as well as her professional goals, now finds herself with a great desk job and a solid future. It’s the perfect time for adding a new man to her life who is ready to commit. In her first rousing number she explains that she’s ” giving up heavy metal and is Ready To Settle Down.” The song paints a picture of her wild past, while at the same time underlines her desire to put that behind her for all the perks that true love with one steady guy can bring.
In an uncharacteristic moment she seeks advice from her mom, Grace (Babs Winn) who is a reigning Soap Opera queen and has difficulty telling fantasy from reality, let alone sorting out her real family tree from her TV-planted one. Still, Layla finds her mother’s advice somewhat sound: at Layla’s age it’s best to look for A Divorced Man who has already been broken in. With resolve, Layla goes off to find a man who is “divorced, divine and domesticated.”
Soon enough she meets Bo (Richard Binder) who has a lot of the characteristics she’s looking for — she’s attracted to him, plus he’s divorced, he’s got two kids and he seems to have made the transition to divorced man nicely. Of course, there are some bumps: with his paycheck going to so many different streams Layla often feels like he’s committing “economic polygamy” and whenever Bo dreams up a fun date for just the two of them his precocious daughter Molly (Babs Winn again) is always begging Can I Go Too? — everything from new restaurants to romantic weekend getaways. Worse, Bo’s ex, Glenda (Laura Daniel) suddenly seems to need his help with everything from taxes to odd jobs around her store.
Layla’s solution is to confront the issue head on, kinda, and go undercover to the store to see what the ex is really about. Down at Glenda’s boutique Layla finds that she actually has a lot in common with Bo’s ex despite their dramatically different looks and attitudes. Both not only have the heart and soul of rocker chicks but Layla finds that Glenda was actually Betty Black for a while — a rather well-known (in certain circles) singer.
Layla tries to pump Glenda for information about why the marriage to Bo failed but it seems that every time she’s about to get some dirt there’s an interruption. Between the Landmarks Preservation Office not playing ball (which will lead to the shop being closed down) and Bo’s oldest son Kevin (Michael Kirk Lane) getting in trouble again at school it seems like Glenda is going to be taking up a lot of her ex-husband’s time. Layla, seeing her opportunity to kill two birds with one stone ,offers to go pick up Kevin for Glenda. She figures this would give her a great opportunity to get to know her boyfriend’s son without coming in as “the girlfriend”.
At the Longwood Academy picking up Kevin she uses a fake name, “Monique”, and somehow finds herself not correcting the principal who assumes she is Glenda’s lesbian partner. Kevin meets “Monique” and immediately becomes smitten with the woman who he finds Uniquely Monique. He rhapsodizes about her numerous qualities (which leave his high-school-aged girls in the dust) and decides that he will win her over no matter what it takes.
Meanwhile, Layla, in another stealthy move, decides to visit Landmarks Preservation Officer, Whitman Ginsberg, (also Michael Kirk Lane) and convince him that it would be a crime to shut down Glenda’s store. This time using the name Erin Brocolli she even lets on that Glenda has a little crush on Whitman … and that Glenda was A Celebrity at one time. Wouldn’t he like to bask in the reflected glory of someone who was famous? She convinces him to take Glenda out on a date.
On the other side of town, Glenda and Bo are meeting up to discuss random events about their children’s lives and Bo takes the opportunity to tell Glenda about Layla. Each notices that they only wish The Best For You. Layla, still in spy mode, is on the other side of the restaurant and perceives this touching moment as a a possible blow to her relationship. In an anthemic number she vows that it Ain’t Gonna Happen.
After intermission exactly what you’d expect happens; everyone who has been pining for Layla – as Monique or Erin or just herself – winds up seeing her in the same place and calling her out. Her plan to get everything in order falls like a house of cards and she’s suddenly left without her man.
Of course, this is a musical comedy and one shouldn’t expect it to end in tears; soon enough Layla has some wise observations thanks to a random run-in with Whitman and a rousing acceptance speech given by her mother at the Soap Opera Awards. Eventually Layla finds her way back to Bo and realizes that she’ll start Moving Into His Life after making some Accommodations … since the only way to make a relationship work is if everyone allows a little room for the other person’s baggage.
Overall How To Marry A Divorced Man has the same type of feel-good kick as a Reese Witherspoon movie (Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, and Just Like Heaven come to mind). As a rock musical, most of the story development is left to the songs rather than the dialogue and each musical number is given a fun hook. Days later I’m still humming several of them – which is always a good sign.
While simple and hummable, the score itself still manages to be rich and complex with a variety of styles from traditional musical, to punk, to latin-infused, to power ballad. And even though this was a scaled down reading, the talented cast did an amazing job of getting behind their characters and bringing a deepness and resonance to each scene which gave a believability to the overall presentation. High marks to director Bryan D. Leys who encouraged his cast to play the action full on and not shy away from some of the funner moments of the piece.
With luck this musical will be developed into a full-scale production; I look forward to being in the audience to see it again when it does.