Before Curvy Widow begins, Bobby Goldman introduces herself to three women in the upstairs lobby of the Westside Theatre. “What made you buy tickets?” she asks. They begin to respond, but Goldman — the writer of the autobiographical musical’s book — jumps in to answer for them: “My sluttiness.” A sprightly figure not much taller than the bar, Goldman, 68, makes her rounds among as much of the audience as she can before showtime, posing for photos and encouraging everyone she greets to stay after the performance for a “talk-back” Q&A.
Following the death of her husband, a famous screenwriter — the real-life Bobby was married to James Goldman, the Oscar-winning scribe of The Lion in Winter, who died in 1998 — the musical’s fiftyish Bobby (Nancy Opel) dips a reluctant toe into the world of dating sites, then dives in headfirst. (The somewhat unstated timeline of the production — Bobby is active on all sorts of romantic-electronic platforms, but nothing so recent as, say, Tinder is ever name-dropped — suggests any number of years in the mid- to late Aughts.) As her online alter ego–slash–handle, “Curvy Widow,” Bobby entertains a frequently disastrous parade of suitors, with only the occasional prince among the frogs. (One of them, Per Se, is so named for the swanky restaurant he takes her to.) Through her journey of sex and self-discovery, she must contend with her late husband’s cockblocking ghost, hormone replacement, the dizzying array of condom varieties on sale at Rite Aid, and an onslaught of dick pics, each featuring a different household object for size reference. Broadway veteran Opel, who garnered a Tony nomination as Penelope Pennywise in Urinetown, brings her estimable talents to the title role. The versatile ensemble cast — Ken Land, Andrea Bianchi, Elizabeth Ward Land, Aisha de Haas, Alan Muraoka, and Christopher Shyer — energetically populates Bobby’s orbit of friends, dates, and gynecologists.
Drew Brody’s music and lyrics are pleasant, if a little generic. Among the standouts are the catchy “It’s Not a Match,” in which the female cast members comment on Bobby’s misadventures like a Sixties-girl-group Greek chorus, and “Looking For,” in which a trio of married men enumerate the characteristics of the not-their-wife women they’re hoping to meet. But it’s the darkest, non-musical moments of Curvy Widow that are most compelling — like when grieving Bobby’s girlfriends bring her offerings of sleeping pills and anxiety meds pilfered from their own medicine cabinets. Such moments of vulnerability, though, are too often hastily glossed over in favor of yet another tune. A recent widow’s visits to her spouse’s shrink of thirty years are a ripe jumping-off point for a short story, if not an entire memoir. But in Curvy Widow, Bobby’s inherited psychiatrist’s primary function is to recommend (in song, and his professional medical opinion) that his new patient “get laid.”
By the curtain call, I suspect that Bobby’s genuinely interesting life story could be more richly rendered in another medium. A few minutes later, I’m sure of it. Most of the audience has filed out by the time the actual Goldman takes a seat at center stage for questions, which is entirely their loss. The events as depicted in the show, she tells us, are “98.5 percent” accurate. (Now, she buys her condoms in bulk at Costco, “whatever’s on sale.”) Even the props — including the pasta maker on the bookshelf, as well as all the blouses Opel wears — have been borrowed from Goldman’s apartment.
She’s currently dating six men (“I multitask really well”), a fact that she was displeased came up in a recent New York Times profile. Apparently, not all of Bobby’s beaus were thrilled to learn the company they were in. “I lost two, which I have replaced this week,” she says. All of these men are married, and all of them she met on the affair-facilitating site Ashley Madison. This pair of revelations elicits an audible murmur of surprise. “Don’t judge me,” she chides the audience. She’d never break up a marriage, Goldman explains. And young husbands who cheat? They’re pigs. Her all-purpose relationship advice: “If he’s disgusting, dump him. If he isn’t, take care of him.” If this were a one-woman show, who wouldn’t go see it?
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