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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
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Triad Theatre
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New York, NY

Wine Lovers - The Musical

by Robert Abrams
December 10, 2007
Triad Theatre
158 West 72nd Street
New York, NY 10023
I thought Wine Lovers, a musical where the audience not only learns about wine but also gets to taste some excellent vintages, was a superb show, and so did Captain Janeway of Star Trek Voyager. Kate Mulgrew was in the audience the night I saw the show, and she gave the show a standing ovation at the final curtain call, but more on that later.

The Triad Theatre is an intimate venue with risers to help with the sight lines. Wine Lovers transformed the whole space, audience and stage included, into a bistro where a wine class was taking place. The audience area was packed fairly tightly with small tables packed fairly tightly with ten glasses of wine for two people each. The set on stage was an extension of the audience area, just with more room. The walls were hung with pictures of grapes and wine.

There are plenty of shows where you can sit at a table and drink (ExploreDance.com uses the Spanish term Tablao to refer to all shows of this sort), but I have never seen a show that was also a wine tasting. I thought that it was a good concept well executed. On some level the show was a paean to wine, and so one could argue that it was a shill, but if you believe in your product there is nothing wrong with being a shill. Someone who already knows that they can't stand wine and just wants a musical might not like this show, but other than that I think that people will find they are getting either a quality musical with six glasses of good wine thrown in as a bonus or six glasses of quality wine with a good musical thrown in as a bonus. Normally, one would get only one or the other for the $65 ticket price, not both. The only way Wine Lovers could have given better value was if they had given away a set of steak knives with each ticket purchase.

The characters had depth. The music, by Gary Negbaur and Michael Green, fit in a range of styles, with some reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan in terms of very fast lyrics and others echoing West Side Story in terms of memorable notes that float away. Tuck Milligan, Jessica Phillips and Eric Rubbe all had articulate voices, which was fortunate because the lyrics were intelligently written, such as "enough of ordering by the glass" to describe the desire to fall in love. The actors also had excellent comic timing. The show was directed by Holly-Anne Ruggiero.

The choreography, by Holly Cruz, was small to fit a small stage, but it served its purpose of making the motion flow. The choreography included a very nice grapevine, no pun intended. There was tap dancing accompanied by wine glass and pencil percussion in the Screw Cap number. The Spin The Bottle number had a little Swing dancing. Again, there wasn't much dancing, but what was there was good with clean technique. The dancing enhanced the impact of each number. My notes indicate that Ms. Mulgrew was clapping enthusiastically at the end of the Spin the Bottle number. I thought that the Spin The Bottle song might have Westie-Hopper potential, but I would need to listen to it again to be sure. There was an entire musical number that discussed the merits of Sherry, a wine from Spain. Appropriately, the number incorporated some Flamenco. While there was nothing wrong with the Flamenco as danced, if the creators of Wine Lovers were looking for ways to improve an already excellent show, this is one number I would take another look at. I thought that the cast could have taken their Flamenco further. A few lessons could give the dancing in the number even more impact. There is another dance related problem with the Sherry number. In addition to the Flamenco, the number uses some Argentine Tango. The Tango is there because the number needs some partner dance type interaction. While it is true that Tango is a dance developed and danced largely by people who speak Spanish, it is not a dance from Spain. In a lesser show, this would be okay, but Wine Lovers' lyrics are so intelligent that unless the number made reference to Argentina, which it doesn't, the Tango looks out of place. Fortunately, there is a partner dance from Spain that has some stylistic similarities to Tango and which is also closer to Flamenco: Paso Doble. I think if Paso Doble were substituted for the Tango in the Sherry number, the number would work better. Not that the show should get rid of the Argentine Tango choreography by any means: it should just be put into a new number that discusses Argentine wines.

Between the music and the book, by Travis Kramer, Gary Negbaur and Michael Green, the show provided quite a bit of useful information while simultaneously being very amusing. For instance, the process of making wine involves a reaction between the sugar on the inside of the grapes and the yeast on the outside of the grapes. You should hold wine glasses by the stem of the glass, not the bowl of the glass. The show gave interesting conceptual approaches to pairing wine with food, such as light versus heavy, and similarity versus contrast.

One of the challenges of being an editor is that people end up expecting you to review everything. I like wine, but I wouldn't claim to be an expert on it (which may be a good thing because it helps me avoid compulsions to buy $500 bottles of wine). The audience got to drink six wines at key moments as the show progressed. The first, a 2006 Ca' Donini Pinot Grigio from Veneto, Italy was very pleasant with a light and fruity taste. The second wine, a 2007 Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca, Chile was stronger than the first wine. The third wine was a 2006 Simon Hackett Chardonnay from Barossa Valley, Australia. It was very buttery. I thought it was an excellent Chardonnay. The fourth wine was a 2005 Louis Jadot Moulin-A-Vent "Chateau des Jacques" from Beaujolais, France. It had strong fumes and a rich tannin taste. The fifth wine was a 2005 Frances Coppola "Diamond Series" Zinfandel from California. It had excellent aroma and was very smooth. The final wine of the night was a Cava Cordon Negro Brut sparkling wine by Friexenet from Penedes, Spain that was very refreshing.

At the end of the show, I worked up the nerve to speak to Ms. Mulgrew to thank her for her excellent work (I am a huge Star Trek fan and have seen her perform on stage as well). She was gracious, and rather than talking about herself proceeded to praise Wine Lovers. She is as classy in person as she is when performing, which is another reason to give her projects a look (www.totallykate.com).

Other than taking another look at the dances used in the Sherry number, there isn't much I can think of that would improve this already excellent show. They could get a bigger stage and add more dancing, but that wouldn't necessarily make the show better, just different and maybe better for those of us who are totally obsessed with dance. There is one process item that could be improved, though. There should be an order form in the program for the six wines that the audience gets to taste during the show. I would have ordered a mixed case of wines number 3, 5, and 6 on the spot. The creators could create slight variants of the show so that audience members could see the show several times, tasting different wines each time. The show could also become a character launch pad, where the characters could be re-purposed in other, non-wine-centric shows, and new characters could be rotated into the wine show. They could create an all Swing and Tango version of the show by collaborating with the creators of Swango. And since the creators of Wine Lovers did such a good job with a wine tasting musical, I am hoping they try their hands at a chocolate tasting musical.
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