Love or Money?

The age-old question, especially for those living in Manhattan amongst a wealthy set: would one “settle” for true love and a life of poverty, or attempt to secure the most financially comfortable lifestyle no matter what the personal cost? This is the struggle facing young couple Susy Branch and Nick Lansing as well as other characters in the new Jazz Age musical comedy, Glimpses of the Moon, now playing in the historic Algonquin Hotel’s intimate Oak Room. Such a charming 1920s theme, and my, how times have changed... uh, kinda. The show is based on the 1922 novel by Edith Wharton, written immediately after winning her Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence. The less-remembered but sweet story, which became an international best-seller in its time, is neatly adapted by Tajlei Levis, who wrote the book and lyrics, with enjoyable music by John Mercurio. It makes good subject matter for a light romantic comedy, and is especially timely given our current economic climate. Any investment broker reference gets a wry laugh, both on behalf of the characters’ approaching future, as well as our own.

The characters of Wharton, who was certainly no stranger to excessive wealth herself, are predictable but likeable, demonstrating the struggles of those both inside and out of her moneyed class. The premise: what if the popular yet penniless Susy and Nick get married purely in order to cash in their lavish wedding gifts, and live on the proceeds for one year, while using their new access and status to meet and woo wealthier spouses? It just might work, unless while enjoying all of the invitations to vacation homes and fancy parties, they accidentally do fall in love... with each other.

The show was designed specifically to be performed in the Oak Room (formerly known as the Pergola Room), and happens to be the exact site where the auspicious first gathering of the legendary literary group later to become known as the Algonquin Round Table took place almost 90 years ago. (That luncheon was held in honor of then-New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott’s return from World War I.) Later moved to the main dining room and provided with the ubiquitous round table, the clever wits would lunch, socialize, create, and generally hold court there for the next decade; the very walls are steeped in literary and theatrical history.

The non-amplified acoustics of the Oak Room are wonderful, with cozy wood-paneling (hence its name), and a lighting grid, with creative lighting design executed by Richard Winkler, which rivals much of what is seen in most off-off-Broadway theater spaces. Used mainly for cabaret performances, you can even drink or dine there beforehand if your budget (or your sugar daddy) allows, making it truly feel like an old New York nostalgic treat. But think Stork Club, not your father’s dinner theater.

This element is even incorporated into the show. In one scene, set coincidentally in “the Oak Room,” Susy and Nick are moved by a singer’s heartfelt performance. The singer role, played effectively by actual New York cabaret songstress Lisa Asher, will revolve to feature performers known on the cabaret circuit, ostensibly to entice new audiences and further enliven the production. Look for other special guest stars to come: Robert Newman, Lonette McKee, and Tony winner Chuck Cooper.

With a new producer, Sharon Carr, and some casting changes since its previous mounting earlier this year, the show is now set for an open run. Returning as the colorful friends-with-money are Daren Kelly as old-school Nelson, Glenn Peters as droll Streffy, and comedic delight Laura Jordan playing two roles, society matron Ursula and rich geekette Coral. New to this production are Jane Blass as Nelson’s generous (for a price) wife Ellie, and honey-voiced Autumn Hurlbert and Chris Peluso as the heart-of-gold(diggers) Susy and Nick. The performances are Broadway-caliber, and director Marc Bruni’s rich theatrical expertise is evident.

The vibrant costumes by Lisa Zinni, wigs and hair by Kurt Alger, make-up, and even the characters’ affected high-society dialects were all spot on for the period, and seemed well integrated. I could imagine Denis Jones’ lush choreography and a few narrative scenes (such as the regatta reenactment and honeymoon) being done on a larger scale, which it seems this show has the legs for, but the creative ways they are enacted make it even more up close and personal. You could spend as much seeing a Broadway staple, but including dinner and losing the crush of tourists while being just as highly entertained makes for a unique and intimate experience.

And if one-time Algonquin resident Dorothy Parker had been asked her opinion on the questions the show raises, she might have dropped one of her famous lines, “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” For my money (what’s left of it), this show is a fun way to Jazz up an average Monday night, raise a toast to Mrs. Parker and friends, and live it up while we can. Take a break from CNN and go wild.

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