Neil Sedaka was a prolific singer/songwriter of the 1950s and 1960s, but few of his catchy hit tunes could be described as theater music. Yet for the past 15 years, thanks to that frequently popular subgenre known as the jukebox musical, he has enjoyed a new revenue stream from a show of his collected songs called Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.
The title also happens to be the opening number of a pleasant, if unexceptional, book musical set during Labor Day weekend at Esther’s Paradise, a stuff-the-guests-with-food-then-play-Simon-Says hotel in the Catskills, during the heyday of that upstate New York resort region.
Esther’s, like most Catskills hotels, caters to honeymooners, as Marge (Meg Frost) would have been had her fiancé Leonard not stood her up at the altar. She is heartbroken, but since the newlyweds package was already paid for, Marge takes it as a solace vacation, bringing along her girlfriend, Lois (Leigh Green). And with romance in mind to mend her wounded heart, Lois is determined to find a guy for Marge before the weekend is up. (Cue the song “Where the Boys Are.”)
If you are counting, Breaking Up is the second nostalgic jukebox musical in a row for The Wick Theatre, following Sh-Boom!, a last-minute substitution in the Boca Raton company’s season. The Wick does produce these shows with admirable affection, but here’s hoping they do not go to this well too often.
In any event, book writers Erik Jackson and Ben H. Winters wrap a goofy storyline around Sedaka’s tunes. Lois tries to brighten Marge’s morose mood by telling her that the resort’s unctuous lounge singer, Del Delmonico (Dorian Quinn, a holdover from Sh-Boom!), is romantically interested in her. In fact, Del is more interested in furthering his career, which could get a boost from the imminent arrival of a talent scout from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The scout has heard that Del pens some snappy songs, but they are actually ghost-written by Gabe (Dominique Scott), the resort’s nerdy handyman, who secretly pines for Marge.
Wait, there’s more. Harvey (Barry Pearl, best known for playing Doody in the movie of Grease), is the resort’s veteran tummler, purveyor of creaky jokes. He pines for Esther, the resort’s widowed owner (Christine Pedi, veteran of Forbidden Broadway and a Sirius XM radio host), but cannot muster the nerve to tell her. Both Pearl and Pedi are billed as the show’s co-stars, but are actually minor second bananas.
Fortunately, the rest of the cast more than compensates. Frost’s timid Marge blossoms into a belter on such songs as “Lonely Nights” and “Solitaire.” Quinn’s Del may be a crudball, but he delivers such Sedaka hits as “Stupid Cupid” and “Oh! Carol” with hip-swiveling verve. And as Gabe, Scott reveals unexpected vocal chops on “Laughter in the Rain” and the show’s finale, “Love Will Keep Us Together,” written by Sedaka for The Captain and Tenille.
The reliable Jonathan Van Dyke directs and choreographs the show with an energy and zip that is hard to resist. Keith Nielsen’s costumes are sprightly and Kirk Bookman’s lighting is colorfully comic-toned. And it is refreshing to see and hear and a live four-piece onstage band at the Wick, under the guidance of keyboardist Jason Tucker.
Breaking up may or may not be hard to do, but at the Wick, the hard-working six-member cast, plus four offstage backup singers, make easy work of Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, May 15. $75-$115. 561-995-2333 or visit www.thewick.org.