Just in case you ever wondered why there’s no “Dear Abby: The Musical,” check out “Tiny Beautiful Things,” a well-meant but messy and unnecessary stage dramatization of various personal advice/self-help columns, as adapted by and starring Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) and directed by Thomas Kail (“Hamilton”).
Several years ago, Cheryl Strayed (best known for the memoir “Wild,” which was adapted into a recent film with Reese Witherspoon) wrote an advice column for the online literary magazine The Rumpus under the byline “Sugar.” These pieces were subsequently combined and published in the best-selling work “Tiny Beautiful Things.”
Vardalos is billed in the program as “Sugar” but is apparently portraying Strayed, or at least a version of Strayed who is an underpaid, married writer with children. She first appears alone on a large set depicting a cluttered apartment and is then joined by three more performers (Phillip James Brannon, Alfredo Narciso, Natalie Woolams-Torres).
Once Sugar agrees to take over the “Dear Sugar” column, the others portray multiple letter writers seeking her heartfelt, humorous and shockingly frank advice, in which she incorporates her own often harsh past experiences.
There is a bit of conversation between Sugar and her readers, but the show primarily consists of Vardalos delivering one long confessional monologue after another.
Vardalos, Kail and Marshall Heyman (who are credited as co-conceivers) made an unusual and creative attempt to inject a series of essays with a dramatic spine, giving the actors a big set to play around with (they do the dishes and laundry) and having Vardalos convey the author’s own emotional journey over time through subtle acting choices.
However, the question-and-answer cycle quickly becomes repetitive and makes for a long and strained 80 minutes that could probably be better spent perusing Strayed’s original columns.