BY DAVID KENNERLEY | Although the York Theatre Company is famous for carefully nurturing brand new musicals (its boffo hit “Cagney” has been running Off-Broadway for over a year), its latest effort, “Marry Harry,” feels decades old.
In this case, that’s not such a bad thing. For the winsome romantic comedy, despite being set in present-day New York, is a throwback to beloved classics like “She Loves Me” and “The Music Man” in all their unpretentious, starry-eyed glory.
The book, by Jennifer Robbins, is a variation on boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy (possibly) reunites with girl. Harry Cudicini is pushing 30 and is stuck slinging red sauce at his pop’s East Village Italian eatery (called Cudicini’s, of course). Sherri, almost 30 herself, still lives with her rich, controlling mother on the Upper East Side and decides to dump her cheating fiancé. When Harry and Sherri meet by chance in the alley behind the restaurant, sparks fly and wedding plans are hastily made. Just as quickly, their dream falls apart.
To be sure, much of the creaky, improbable plot is exceedingly silly, and the dialogue is infused with clichés. Yet what this endeavor lacks in logic it makes up for in boundless charm. Under the guidance of Bill Castellino (who also choreographed), the show musters moments that are genuinely moving.
Not that there aren’t a few fresh touches. Throughout the show a sort of gender-bending Greek chorus (a spirited Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian, and Claire Saunders) comments on the action through zippy vaudeville-style routines. They cycle through an eye-popping array of inventive costumes, featuring bridal gowns, bowler hats, fishnets, and garters, designed by Tyler M. Holland.
What really keeps this enterprise afloat are the sweetly affecting performances by the leads, David Spadora and Morgan Cowling. Dreamboat Spadora is expertly attuned to the plight of Harry, torn between carrying on the family tradition downtown and becoming a sous chef at Felidia, the tony uptown restaurant owned by celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich. His demeanor is so adorably unassuming and his vocals so clean and pure, it almost makes sense that Sherri would propose marriage after just one hot, gluttonous date.
The supporting cast of Lenny Wolpe, as Harry’s crusty dad, and Robin Skye, as Sherri’s domineering mom, make the most of stock roles.
The catchy score, by Dan Martin (music) and Michael Biello (lyrics), is a pleasant mix of comedic ditties and soulful ballads. James Morgan’s beautiful illustrated set of an East Village neighborhood, painted in watercolor hues, looks like something out of a children’s storybook.
The intermittently enchanting “Marry Harry” is a reminder of the down-to-earth pleasures of vanilla pursuits. This is unpolished, escapist theatrical entertainment, where the main message is “love will find a way.” If you’re looking for deeper topical themes, you won’t find them here. For instance, Cudicini’s is on shaky financial ground and threatens to close, yet there’s no mention of the insanely high rents driving out mom-and-pop shops throughout the city.
New musicals can take many years to gestate, even ones based on old traditions (“Marry Harry” began as a reading at the Vassar Powerhouse Theater back in 2011). The York should be applauded for its efforts to champion this piece, which deserves a chance to evolve and improve.
MARRY HARRY | York Theatre Company, Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave. at 54th St., Citicorp Center | Through May 21: Tue.-Wed. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Thu., Sat.-Sun. at 2:30 p.m. | $67 at YorkTheatre.org | 80 mins., with no intermission