'Bright Lights Big City'
By Vincent Canby
A lot of fine young talent is going nowhere in New York Theater Workshop's attempt to make a "Rent"-like musical out of "Bright Lights Big City," Jay McInerney's best-selling seminal novel on his booze-swilling, drug-sniffing 1980's generation.
The director is Michael Greif, who staged "Rent." The cast is eager to make good, and the music, by Paul Scott Goodman, has a number of attractive things in it. Yet Mr. Goodman's book and lyrics, as well as his own uneasy performance as the show's singing narrator, keep getting in the way. His failure is not a surprise. Even the movie adaptation couldn't make it, and it was written by Mr. McInerney.
A superficial read of the novel could spot the difficulty. What happens to the story's unnamed hero as he goes from bad to worse, attempting to manage life in Manhattan's fast lane, isn't as important as how it is told. The distinctive voice, which speaks to the reader in the second person, is full of hilarious, poignant asides, digressions, opinions and aperAus. These do not easily translate into a musical in which most of the dialogue is sung.
The accent and stage personality of the Scottish-born Mr. Goodman are as alien to "Bright Lights Big City" as Steven Spielberg's E.T. would be. Though his melodies often work, his lyrics assault you with banalities. The sad thing: if, somehow, the book and lyrics could be upgraded, the actors would certainly be able to carry it.
Among the noteworthy: Patrick Wilson, who plays the unstrung hero, now named Jamie; Napiera Daniele Groves as his estranged wife; Jerry Dixon as his wayward best friend, and Natascia Diaz as the new woman in his life.
Maybe it opened too soon.