A new musical about an old maid doesn't quite sweep us off our feet, but has the potential to clean up its act.
Your first question might well be: Hazel who? This new musical, premiering at Drury Lane with commercial aspirations, is based on a character created by Saturday Evening Post cartoonist Ted Key in the 1940s and best remembered, if at all today, for an eponymous sitcom that ran on TV from 1961 to 1966. I vaguely recall seeing the TV show, which starred Shirley Booth as the wise and wise-cracking live-in maid to a whitebread suburban family, in syndicated reruns when I was a kid in the ’80s; younger friends I've quizzed have zero recollection of the property.
Yet in the hands of book writer Lissa Levin, whose own résumé is packed with credits on 1980s sitcoms like WKRP, Cheers and that other paean to domestic help, Mr. Belvedere, Hazel the musical plays like a reasonably satisfying pilot for a period sitcom, with knowing hindsight providing some meta chuckles. In its depiction of its 1965 setting and certain American obsessions of the time—women entering the workforce, the Cold War and the space race—Levin's book serves up some decent send-ups.
The trouble, as it stands now, is that this Hazel feels more like a pilot episode than a stand-alone piece of musical theater. Levin introduces clearly identifiable A-, B- and C-plots: There's the marital tension between uptight lawyer George Baxter (Ken Clark) and his wife, Dorothy (Summer Naomi Smart), as she chooses to go to work full-time as an interior designer; there's also a potential romance between Hazel (Klea Blackhurst), their new Mary Poppins–ish maid, and George's prospective legal client, whackjob entrepreneur Bonkers Johnson (Ed Kross). And then there's a too-loose thread about the Baxters' eight-year-old son, Harold (Casey Lyons), and his pals catching a UFO on film and drawing the attention of a military task force.
All of these storylines get tied up so neatly in the show's closing scenes that the main characters seem not so much changed as reset for the next week's episode. And the songs, by Ron Abel and Chuck Steffan, often feel like retrograde intrusions—not just dated but of many different dates, including an "I wish" number for Hazel that sounds like a ’70s disco ballad, a song for the scuffling parents that brings to mind TV theme songs like those of ’80s shows like Family Ties or Growing Pains, and a curious David-Bowie-meets-Broadway tune for poor Harold that talented young actor Lyons sells the hell out of but doesn't fit with the rest of the show.
Still, there's potential here. If director Joshua Bergasse, also a Tony-nominated choreographer (On the Town) who shoehorns in some engaging dance numbers, hasn't quite yet made a cohesive whole out of Hazel, it's already a lot more enjoyable than some shows that have made it to Broadway runs in recent seasons. And Drury Lane's cast, from top-tier lead Blackhurst to the savvy trio of kid actors portraying Harold's entourage, clearly convey how much fun they're having with the material. If Hazel's creators keep polishing it, this show might yet really shine.
Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace. Music by Ron Abel. Lyrics by Chuck Steffan. Book by Lissa Levin. Directed by Joshua Bergasse. With Klea Blackhurst, Ken Clark, Summer Naomi Smart, Casey Lyons, Ed Kross. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.