Brunch – The Musical @ Chernuchin Theater, New York

directed by
Rick Kunzi.
If Brunch had ended at intermission, I would have no problem giving it my wholehearted endorsement.

The first act had been fun and lively, if rather convential, but the leaden second half sucks the life out of the show and wore out the patience of the entire audience.

Rick Kunzi and Adam Barnosky’s musical takes place before and during a Sunday brunch shift at a busy restaurant.

Anyone who has ever worked with the public, be it in food service, retail or any job that requires you to put on your ‘happy face’, will be able to relate to something in this show.
Brunch examines the lives of the staff at the restaurant in question. The play is not in the business of digging into dark corners, the pleasures come from its recreation of a time and way of life many in the audience will have experienced: a time when getting up after a heavy night of partying was your biggest worry, a time when work was the place you hung out with friends, flirted, fought and pissed away the hours until it was time to go out again.

We are presented with a number of characters and each member of the cast takes full advantage of their moment in the spotlight. The cast are talented and likeable and you quickly get swept up in the petty rivalries and giant egos that populate the restaurant. So far, so enjoyable.

And then comes intermission.

This is where the show seriously loses its way. A decision seems to have been made that the characters suddenly need backstory, or a love affair, or to wonder where life will take them after they’re done waiting tables. This need to inject a little gravity into proceedings is understandable but the swerve from the light and goofy to the plaintive, from an rock-orientated score towards soppy balladry, feels out of place and jarring. Just as the audience has settled in for a fun piece of fluff, the writing becomes unfluffy, veering off – not very successfully – in unexpected directions. The audience is faced with a serving of life lessons along with their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict.

Not only does this tonal change not work, but it comes at the expense of the fun and wit that made the first half so entertaining.

This is a shame, because the cast do an excellent job when given the chance. Judah Frank, as Phillip the gay waiter, and Cara Babich, as Steph, the surrogate head of the wait staff, are the standouts. Only Maxx Mann, a real life rocker (from the band Trans-Siberian Orchestra), is miscast. His character strikes a pretty false note in a cast that feel, and this is a compliment, as if they have just nipped over from a Greenwich Village eatery.

Brunch The Musical is, if you’ll excuse the analogy, a lot like brunch the meal. It starts well enough, with some frothy drinks and smart conversation, but it all goes to hell when the food that arrives is cold and inspired.

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