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A CurtainUp Review
Glimpses of the Moon

I wish I could give you more than castles in the air.— Nick, from the title song and Glimpses of the Moon's most romantic ballad.
Glimpses of the Moon
Stephen Plunkett (Nick) and Patti Murin (Susy) in Glimpses of the Moon. (Photo: Katie Rosin)
An Edith Wharton novel turned into a jazzy cabaret musical for a dinner-theater experience at the Algonquin's Oak Room? It IS jazzy and fun, even if the space and acoustics aren't exactly the ideal showcase for Glimpses of the Moon as adapted by Tajlei Levis and John Mercurio.

Wharton's many novels and short stories were predominately dark and ironic. The stuff of good dramas but hardly lending themselves to light and gay musicals.

As part of my summer beat in the Berkshires, I've seen many of this writer's works adapted for the stage by Shakespeare & Company which began its life in Wharton's Lenox mansion (now restored as a museum). Wharton's novella Summer, was musicalized as well as dramatized, but as an opera by the Berkshire Opera Company. Yet, Levis and Mercurio did manage to pick the one Wharton novel that has enough lightness and the background to be just the right musical they were commissioned to create as an alternative to the typical cabarets presented at the Oak Room. That book, Glimpses of the Moon, is midcareer novel, written in 1922 (shortly after she became the first female Pulitzer-winner with The Age of Innocence. It was a big hit and was even made into a long-forgotten silent movie. The jazzy musical adaptation by Levis and Mercurio is likely to be a big Monday Night hit in the room which makes it site specific since the role models for Wharton's GildedAge characters probably gossiped and dined there often.

While regarded as one of the author's rare comedies, Glimpses of the Moon is not without its share of heartaches. Susy Branch (Patti Murin) and Nick Lansing (Stephen Plunkett), the romantic leads, are, like Lily Bart of Wharton's best-known and most often dramatized tragedy, The House of Mirth, fringe members of the idle rich social set. Both are poor but welcome guests at the parties and homes of their wealthy friends. But while their story has a happier ending than Lily's, this is still Wharton and unlike the new musical, the novel's ending is more bittersweet than sweetness and light. Levis and Mercurio nevertheless deserve credit for staying reasonably close to the source text and yet managing to capture some of Wharton's sardonic wit in the spoken dialogue and the more than a dozen musical numbers.

The adapters have clearly tailored the show to its intended setting with a scene in the middle act actually set in the Oak Room so that a guest cabaret singer can sing "Right Here, Right Now" (KT Sullivan did the honors at the opening night performance I attended). However, the show's strengths and the performances by the attractive six-member cast, would probably be more apparent in a small, more conventional theater with better acoustics and more room for choreographer Denis Jones to introduce more than a few snippets of the Charleston. More theatrically appropriate production values would allow the songs to come off less shrilly and prevent having the actors too often obscured by overly harsh lighting.

I would especially love to hear the title song and the cuckolded husband Nelson's (Daren Kelly) plaintive "Tell Her I'm Happy" in a better acoustical setting. Still, there are enough clever spoken and sung lines to make one forgive the Oak Room's shortcomings as a theater —for example, the chic, self-absorbed Ellie (Beth Glover) telling the dowdy Coral (Laura Jordan) "Genius is wasted on a woman who can't do anything with her hair" and the suddenly rich Streffy (Glenn Peters)) telling Susy that "Happiness is a bottle of wine."

Thanks to costume designer Lisa Zinni, the entire cast looks smashingly elegant in their jazz age finery. And in a delightful sad yet funny number about a Newport Regatta that's gone wrong, prop designer Deb Gaouette turns the venue's limitations into an asset, with a chuckle inducing array of miniature paper boats to illustrate "Terrible News" sung by Streffy and the company.

What would Wharton say to this? We'll never know, but you can read her version of Glimpses of the Moon at any number of sites for public domain literature. (Link to Glimpses at Project Gutenberg.

Glimpses of the Moon
Music by John Mercurio
Book and lyrics by Tajlei Levis
Based on the novel of the same name by Edith Wharton.
Directed by Marc Bruni
Musical direction by John Mercurio
Choreography by Denis Jones.
Cast:Beth Glover (Ellie Vanderlyn), Daren Kelly (Nelson Vanderlyn), Ursula Gillow (Coral), Laura Jordan (Hicks), Glenn Peters (Winthrop Strefford), Patti Murin (Susy Branch), Stephen Plunkett (Nick Lansing), Guest Star ( KT Sullivan at Jan.28th opening, others at future evenings.
Scenic Consultant: Ted Le Fevre
Props Designer: Deb Gaouette
Costumes: Lisa Zinny
Lighting: James Milkey
Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN
A Lemon Tree Prods at the Oak Room, Algonquin Hotel
From 1/21/08; opening 1/28/08; closing 3/10/08--Monday evenings only-- Dinner at 6:30, before 8pm show. Tickets are $50, plus a $30 food and beverage minimum. (A prix fixe dinner is available for $50.) Reservations,Barbara McGurn at the 212 419-9331 or
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer January 28, 2008
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Living in This Modern Age/Company
  • The Proposal/Suzy, Nick
  • Cigars/Suzy, Nick, Streffy
  • Letters to Nelson/Ellie, Nelson
  • Glimpses of the Moon/Suzy, Nick
  • The Glories of Greece/Coral
  • What Are You Waiting For?/ Suzy, Nick, Streffy
  • Thank You for This/Ellie, Suzy
  • Dinner Party With Friends/Company
  • Can't You Hear That Jazz?/Suzy, Company
Act Two
  • Terrible News/Streffy, Company
  • I'll Step Aside/Nick, Streffy
  • Cigars (reprise)/Suzy
  • Look What Money Can Buy/Ellie, Coral
  • Right Here, Right Now/Guest Star
  • Tell Her I'm Happy/Nelson
  • But You're Not Him/ Suzy and Nick
  • Glimpses of the Moon (reprise)/Suzy, Nick

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