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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Divorce! The Musical

We'll stick it out together, 'cause that's what marriage is for— Rich's bickering parents
Anyone who has been through a divorce—-and some 50% of American couples have—-will find that Erin Kamler's perceptive new musical will strike a resonant chord. Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief, Kamler's Divorce! The Musical takes us through the stages that often accompany divorce: shock, sadness, nostalgia, uncertainty, regret, and finally, acceptance. But Kamler does it with Sondheim-like songs with clever wording and marvelous music, and a pace that moves the story along with dispatch, humor, and style.

Penny and Rich (Lowe Taylor and Rick Segall) open the show with the exuberant song that accompanies their wedding ceremony, "Till Death Do Us Part." (They make loving vows to each other, including Rich's promise "not to turn gay.") But the very next scene shows them four years later expressing their grievances to a typically unctuous psychiatrist (Gabrielle Wagner) who offers them platitudes and keeps responding to their emotional outbursts with an inane, "But how do you feel?"

Rich is a "celebrity radiologist" who serves as a consultant for a popular ER-like television series. Penny is a would-be actress who makes a career, as Rick sees it, of spending his money. But the real problem is that he wants to start a family and she doesn't. At least, not yet.

He is angry; she is bewildered. Moving toward divorc, they sing, regretfully, that they can no longer be "half lovers, half friends," and each hires a lawyer. His is a snarky, big-time, Beverly Hills go-for-blood shark (Gabrielle Wagner again); hers is a disorganized, somewhat clueless attorney (Leslie Stevens) whose office is in the San Fernando Valley. The lawyers exchange a series of letters, finally meet and begin to collude. Lauren, the shark, takes Lisa, the little carp who swims out of the mainstream, under her gills and teaches her the ins and outs of "Fighting Dirty."

Meanwhile, Penny and Rich, in a steamy, show-stopping tableau, engage in "Rebound Sex" with partners they don't even like. Here Danny Cistone's Shaker-style set is put to most effective use, as the two principals perform in counterpoint to each other in the center of the stage. The rest of the set is equally balanced: matching windows, matching staircases, and matching box-like cubicles that revolve to become the offices of the two attorneys. The two matching doors at the rear of center stage also open to reveal a revolving set that represents the office of their psychiatrist. The Shakers, with their passion for evenly balanced architecture, would give Cistone their highest seal of approval.

Later, Penny and Rich inadvertently meet in a Brentwood Whole Foods store and, in a touching duet, reminisce about the "good things" in their past. But the divorce proceedings continue as their case goes to mediation. Gregory Franklin is the slick-talking barker who turns the mediation into a splashy game show, flashing lights, buzzers, and all.

It's ironic that as Penny and Rich sever their relationship, the people around them become closer. The two lawyers, in cahoots, sing about becoming "Best Friends," and Rich's parents, who have had a toxic relationship for years, sing a triumphant "We Stuck It Out." Playing all the intrinsic other parts, Wagner, Stevens and Franklin are pluperfect and funny, making the small cast of five seem like a concerned multitude.

Rick Sparks, who staged and directs Divorce! The Musical, won some 17 awards for his adaptation and staging of The Shoot Horses, Don't They? and had similar success with the rock-and-roll version of A Clockwork Orange the following year. With Divorce! The Musical he is aided by two of the best technicians in L.A.: Jeremy Pivnick on lights and Cricket Myers on sound. Costume designer Denitsa Bliznakova, and a small orchestra led by David O serve the performers well. But the real star is Erin Kamler, who plumbed her own two divorce experiences to write the music, lyrics and book, and make it all ring true. If the story of a divorce can be tender, funny, and sorrowful yet thoroughly alive, Divorce! The Musical does it. It's a show that anyone contemplating divorce-—or marriage—-should definitely see.

Divorce! The Musical
By Erin Kamler
Directed by Rick Sparks
Cast: Lowe Taylor (Penny Hughes), Rick Segall (Rich Hughes), Gabrielle Wagner (Minister/Therapist/Lauren), Leslie Stevens (Lisa/Annie Hughes), and Gregory Franklin (Don Hughes/Mediator)
Set Design: Danny Cistone
Costume Design: Denise Bliznakova
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Sound Design: Cricket Myers

Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Rick Culbertson in association with Lynn Marks and Paradise Entertainment, Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 960-1056,
From : 02/14/09 to 04/26/09; opening 02/14/09
Tickets: $34.99
Reviewed by Cynthia Citron based on 03/26/09 performance
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