People Are Wrong is a sort of low-profile Proteus among musicals, constantly changing its shape. You would expect its story, about affluent, hip Manhattanites who relocate to a converted barn upstate, to focus on the battle between urban and rural mores, but this tale morphs quickly into a different battle, in which the hipsters are squares who get took by a local loon and cult leader who’s been raised to think he’s a space alien. (And inside that there’s a different battle among his conflicted followers.) The show’s rock-pop idiom, meanwhile, is fighting its own battle over whether to be dramatic or presentational, show music or hit-parade concert, playful or deadly earnest. It’s as if the songwriters were striving for the sweetly dizzy triviality of ’20s musicals but felt guilty, occasionally, about not trying harder to write the next Les Miz.
Inside the interlocking struggles, there’s some fun to be had. David Herskovits’s staging almost succeeds in merging this confusion of realms, making the constant adjustment of mics into a Bunraku-like stage convention, and getting an appealing spirit of general foolery out of his cast, particularly Erin Hill as a displaced urbanite, Tricia Scotti as a neurotic cultie, and Chris Anderson as a paternalistic local doofus. G.W. Mercier’s playschool-colored set and Lenore Doxsee’s spangly lighting abet the freewheeling tone, which makes the show’s 90 minutes go down painlessly. If the authors ever figure out what it is they’re trying to write, they may yet turn out something that has People Are Wrong‘s bounciness without its uncertainty.