Some shows, without being rabble rousers, are just right for where they are, and the thing about The Thing About Men is that is the ideal, smart mini-musical for the King’s Head. You would probably never want to listen to it again, but it fits the bill and passes the time. The lyrics aren’t bad at all.
The authors are Joe Di Pietro (book and lyrics) and Jimmy Roberts (music) who were responsible for another, similarly well crafted but fatally anodyne confection, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which aimed to take the rise out of love in a quick-change revue format and fell flat on its face (in London, at least; it’s still running in New York, which is one of Big Apple’s biggest mysteries).
The source of the new musical is a 1985 German film, Men, here translated to New York with a classic farce plot, worthy of Feydeau, in which Tom, a philandering advertising executive, ingratiates himself with his wife Lucy’s new lover, Sebastian, becomes his best buddy and is nearly assigned the role of best man at Seb’s wedding to Lucy (when the divorce comes through). Sebastian is a hirsute hippie, a struggling artist who works in a coffee shop but who ends up, thanks to Tom’s influence – you got it – in advertising. But who ends up with the girl?
Some of the numbers have wit and bounce but some of them, especially in the overdrawn second act, seriously outstay their welcome, despite the admirable professionalism of Hal Fowler as Tom, Tim Rogers as Sebastian and bright-as-a-button Nicola Dawn as juicy Lucy.
The premise of it all seems drearily old-fashioned; for Tom and Lucy have spent 15 years married and just need to spice things up again. Or is Tom finding his own feminine side? Like so many post-Sondheim American musical theatre writers, Di Pietro and Roberts nibble at emotional and relationship issues without having the armoury to pierce through the surface, or indeed our hearts.
That said, director Anthony Drewe (best known for his longstanding collaboration with composer George Stiles - they wrote Honk!, Just So and the new songs for Mary Poppins, amongst others) has done a fine job of presentation on a set design by Philip Whitcomb of enlarged faces on mauve and grey screens that resemble Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art cartoon blow-ups.
The cast sing valiantly and caper nimbly, no more so than the quick-change duo of deadpan Paul Baker and delightful Tiffany Graves filling in as all the extras. Musically, the show may sound antediluvian, but it has a jaunty, not too displeasing quality that is well supported by a versatile trio led by Simon Sharp on keyboards.