Happiness

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
MYSTERY TRAIN Foster, left, conducts Arcelus through limbo.

Photograph: Paul Kolnik

If eternity involves the MTA, do we really want to believe in the afterlife? Then again, if it has musical numbers and Susan Stroman dances, how bad can it be? Even so, Happiness—the director-choreographer's new project with Contact collaborator John Weidman—isn't the kaleidoscope of bliss the title promises.

When eight freshly dead New Yorkers and one lost, career-driven lawyer (Sebastian Arcelus) end up in the purgatory of a subway car, they must choose a moment of ecstasy to live in for eternity. Although the authors benefit from a sparkling cast, characters often taste processed instead of organic, from the conservative radio shock-jock (Joanna Gleason) to the gay interior designer (Ken Page) to the multiethnic Chinese-Jewish married doctors (Robert Petkoff, Pearl Sun). And with nearly every buoyant song recollecting a happy memory, composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie are as locked in by the constraints of format as the characters are by the ghostly train conductor (Hunter Foster) who acts as their master of ceremonies.

Unlike A Chorus Line, where similar confessional songs capture a character's idiosyncrasies, many scenarios seem cherry-picked for what they represent from different eras (WWII, the '60s) instead of their impact on an individual. But the potency here may lie as much in what audiences take away as in what they see onstage.—Diane Snyder

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Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Book by John Weidman. Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Dir. Susan Stroman. With ensemble cast. 1hr 50mins. No intermission.