Marry Harry revives a genre not much seen in these parts lately, the charm musical. The work of Jennifer Robbins (book), Dan Martin (music), and Michael Biello (lyrics), the show is small and hasn’t much on its mind, just the urge to put a few likable characters through a simple story and send its audience out with a collective feeling of “Aww.” Thanks to an attractive production on the intimate York Theatre stage and an overqualified cast, it gets its “Aww,” though it also earns a couple of helpings of “You can’t be serious.”
On James Morgan’s cheerful, comic-strip set representing East 5th Street and Avenue A, enter the Village Voices (Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, Claire Saunders), an adorable trio that functions as Greek chorus, other characters’ internal voices, and whatever else is needed, frequently abetted by changes of Tyler M. Holland’s whimsical costumes. The time, they musically inform us, is the present, but the sound and the feel are pleasantly retro. No hip-hop for this bunch, or extraneous social comment or stretching of the traditional-musical form. No, we’re just concerned with two neighboring businesses, Guidicini's, a failing Italian family restaurant run by Big Harry (Lenny Wolpe) and Little Harry (David Spadora), and Zoya’s, an upscale bridal shop being patronized by Sherri (Morgan Cowling) and her mom Francine (Robin Skye), who’s about to blow a couple hundred grand on her daughter’s wedding.
The exposition comes fast but not furious, with the financial and romantic complications spilling out mildly and face-front declaratively. Harry père is always onto some new scheme to rejuvenate his restaurant; currently he plans to serve a different ethnic cuisine every night of the week. His son, pushing 30 and waiting for his life to start (see how easily the situations trigger song cues?), has applied to be sous-chef at a famous Italian eatery uptown. This infuriates Big Harry, who sees Little Harry’s itch to escape as a betrayal of family tradition (another song). Meantime, Sherri has caught her fiancé cheating on her, days before the wedding (rather ludicrously; surely this unseen guy wouldn’t allow himself to be cornered so easily). She’s in instant, readily musicalizable despair, and as the two twentysomethings Meet Cute, while he’s taking a work break and she’s soliloquizing, we plainly see where we’re headed. To cheer her up he offers to cook her a Guidicini feast, and love is in the air, along with the scents of parmigiana and Bolognese.
Little Harry and Sherri haven’t a great deal of individuality, and Big Harry and Francine even less. Wolpe, splendid as always, has only two traits to play: Harry’s reckless ambition to seize onto the next culinary trend, and his unwillingness to let Little Harry go. (He finally abandons the latter, though not credibly; it’s getting near the ending and we need it to be happy, that’s all.) Francine, like so many moms in so many musicals, wants only for her daughter to marry and make her a grandma. Skye has a powerhouse voice and an engaging willingness to stress Francine’s more annoying personality traits, but she, too, has to turn into an Understanding Parent at the last minute, and we’re not buying it.
Cowling and Spadora are both attractive, capable leads, though she somehow seems too much woman for him, and he tends to wimp out on his high notes. As for the score, it’s refreshingly traditional; Martin likes waltzes and Biello likes la-la-la nonsense syllables, and his couplets tend toward the prosaic—“You’re royalty, I’m a regular Joe,” an anguished Little Harry sings to Sherri, “and I don’t want to let you go.” You won’t exit humming much, but there are a couple of standout numbers, notably “Nonnina’s Biscotti,” Sherri’s business-expansion plan for her new fiancé, and “The Family Name,” Big Harry’s defense of the same. A three-piece band, directed by Eric Svejcar, makes the songs sound as good as they ever will, and Bill Castellino directs and choreographs with a number of smart, laugh-getting grace notes, mostly involving where the Village Voices will turn up next, and in what garb.
No world-beater, then, this Marry Harry, but if all you want is a modern-day, reality-based fairy tale with an eagerness to please and nice people to root for, look no further. One more thing: It’s a brief evening, and you’d do well to save dinner for after. What with all the singing about biscotti, Chianti, and pork tacos (another unpromising brainstorm of Big Harry’s), you’ll leave hungry.
Marry Harry plays through May 21 at the Theater at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Ave., New York). Showtimes are 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, plus 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. For tickets and information, call (212) 935-5820 or visit web.ovationtix.com.