Diner the Musical
Music and Lyrics by Sheryl Crow
Total numbers: 20


- SCORE REVIEWS ARCHIVE -
Last update: 18 December 2015


THE ENQUIRER (PHILLY.COM)

WILMINGTON - At first glance, the 1982 movie Diner seems an odd choice for a musical. Writer-director Barry Levinson's cult classic (which launched the careers of Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, and Ellen Barkin) concerns a group of friends navigating the transition to adulthood in 1959 Baltimore.

In the vignette style of the film, nothing happens. Levinson's and composer-lyricist Sheryl Crow's adaptation transforms Diner into a character-driven, slow-burning battle of the sexes that endears in its reflection on the great social divide between 1950s America and today.

For the most part, Crow's compositions set the musical style squarely in its era of doo-wop, early R&B and rock, and mellow lounge melodies. Director Kathleen Marshall's choreography includes few choral dance numbers to add physical excitement, and more than one song takes place over phone booths that bookend the stage. Combined, these two choices dampen the visual spectacle and vocal enthusiasm of the tremendous young cast.

The lyrics range from clever couplings in both male-male and male-female duets, such as the cynical appraisal of marriage, "It's Good," to non sequiturs ("love is a red wine . . . from a twisted vine") in too many songs attempting to be solo showstoppers.

Act Two's pair of guitar-driven opening hits find Crow getting into her voice and groove, but they make you wonder why Spring Awakening's 19th-century kids can belt out the alternative rock of 2006 while Crow has confined her 1950s Baltimoreans within their own musical era?

Vocally, Diner's cast dazzles, with Fenwick (Matthew James Thomas) thrilling in the rock anthem "I Got No Home," and the trio of female leads (Erika Henningsen, Brynn O'Malley, and Tess Soltau) belting out melodic if uninspiring numbers that flesh out their gender's perspective, which the film notably lacked.

Through these female voices, Crow's lyrical contributions redeem the storyline, expanding the world of Levinson's memory to create what today appears like an alternative universe. It's hard to imagine (let alone comprehend) an age of one partner for life, single motherhood as a socially fatal choice, or an educated middle-class woman abandoning dreams of professional life to stay home and raise a family.

But as with many musical romantic dramas (the movie included far more comedy), I found myself rooting for everyone to find happiness. In that sense, Diner: The Musical, weaves its tale with the same thread of hope that is reborn anew for each successive generation.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

[...] The bluntness of these assertions is tempered by the easygoing melodiousness of Ms. Crow’s score. As a pop singer and composer, she’s a balladeer of romantic ambivalence, and she’s an expert in locating the hidden rue in hedonism. Here, she works fluently in a ’50s pop vocabulary, most effectively in the downbeat jazziness of “It’s Good,” Shrevie’s damningly faint endorsement of marriage, and the achingly wistful duet, “Darling, It’s You.”

It’s music to tap your feet to, yet it doesn’t make you feel like dancing. Excitement is not a part of this gentle show’s DNA.[...]

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DOVER POST

[...] Sheryl Crow's involvement engendered two firsts for this 9 time Grammy award winner: 1) musical theatre and 2) writing for someone other than herself. In her bio Crow says she grew up listening to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Cole Porter, etc, so creating musical theatre is a part of her evolution as a song writer. With great risks come even greater rewards, as evidenced in this ground breaking production. [...]

[...] The youthful cast was exhilarating and are in possession of entrancing voices, their respective bios listing impressive Equity Broadway credits. They were clearly enjoying themselves. While the male characters remain the same, Crow refocused to create an equal partnership with the women. Remember, this is 1959, at the end of the era of the stay at home mother and the cusp of the social and cultural turbulent '60′s. Crow researched the Billboard Top Tunes and interposed that sound in her songs. For example: Jerry Lee Lewis was channeled in “Gotta Lotta Woman” and I bet the pianist (live) has a blast playing it. As interludes between scenes, doo wop singers serenaded us. There was even cha cha.

‘What Would You Bet” went on a verse too long. Fenwick's solo to end the Act 1 “I Got No Home” was cacophonous and should be cut. It was not that Mathew James Thomas did not deliver. The problem is that the lyrics were difficult to decipher and the melody was wildly inconsistent with the tunefulness that Crow created in the others. Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Lerner & Lowe and the greats that nurtured her transcendent ability never concluded the first act with a solo.

The ballads were the strength. “Please Be There” sung by Billy (Aaron C. Finley) was absolutely soul wrenching. His voice has John Denver mellifluous sans country twang. Barbara's (Brynn O'Malley)

“I Can Have It All” was beautifully rendered. The self employed business lady sitting next to me considered this an athem for independent women forging their own careers. “Tear Down This House” sung by Beth (Erika Hennigsen) was so very poignant and struck a personal nerve. I grew up in the '50′s with a distant and detached father. Sheryl certainly did not grow up then but she got both the lyrics and emotion right! [...]

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DELAWAREONLINE.COM

[...] "Nine-time Grammy-winner Sheryl Crow wrote winning music and lyrics that embrace the changing musical styles of the period. Every performer gets a chance to shine, and the show’s 20 songs adeptly advance the story line, but in an attempt to hit so many of the era’s musical styles, “Diner” can feel overstuffed. The songs are good, some of them really good, but the sheer variety and energy can be daunting, especially in the first act.

Overall, though, Crow’s music successfully overlays a distinctive contemporary sensibility onto iconic 1950s styles, creating a score that manages to be both fresh and reverential. And a quartet of smooth back-up singers called the Doo-Wop Guys (Curtis Wiley, Jonathan Shew, Josh Franklin and Matt Dengler) appear throughout like a Greek chorus, providing a musical through-line that strongly evokes the sound of the times" [...]

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VARIETY

"Crow has written a delightful assortment of doo-wop, R&B and early rock-n-roll melodies that might have comprised a ’50s hit parade themselves if the songwriter had come along sooner. They are filled with delicious harmonies and enhanced by insightful lyrics that aggressively advance the plot.

All are sung beautifully by the accomplished ensemble. Standouts include “Tear Down This House,” Crow’s anthem for Beth (Erika Henningsen), who is snared in a disappointing marriage to the clueless Shrevie (Josh Griffith). It follows the humorous R&B number, “It’s Good,” the male perspective on marriage. Later, the men admit the obvious in the jaunty “You’ve Got a Lot to Learn,” and wind up affairs with the high-spirited “Gotta Lotta Woman.”

The gals also state their case in act two’s rousing “Every Man Needs a Woman,” then tone it down nicely with “Don’t,” Barbara’s (Whitney Bashor) emotional response to an untimely pregnancy. Another keeper is the emotional “For What It’s Worth,” which also features Henningsen, the ensemble’s strongest female voice."

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BROADWAYWORLD.COM

"Sheryl Crow's score was a strong point, and while I don't remember the names of any songs off the top of my head they were mostly all enjoyable, with some catchy melodys throughout, inluding a great Act 1 opener and a great song to highlight Whitney Bashor's voice.. Crow did a great job of writing for the time period, and overall the score is a strong point."

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THE BALTIMORE SUN

"And the score, which deftly evokes the late '50s and hints at the '60s, springs naturally from the situations. That many of the songs, intentionally or not, seem to last about the length of a 45 record, adds to the authentic flavor of the show.

But Crow has not just settled for a nostalgia fest. Her melodic lines and chord progressions have a freshness and sophistication that stands out all the more given the generic stuff found in many a musical nowadays, and her lyrics largely avoid the commonplace."

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THE WASHINGTON POST
Critic: Peter Marks

"Fear not, “Diner” fans: The world-premiere musical version at Signature Theatre faithfully replicates the outrageous movie-house scene from Barry Levinson’s beloved 1982 film, the one in which slightly creepy ladies’ man Boogie hides a, ahem, special treat for his date in the popcorn box in his lap.

The surprise is that around this memorable moment, composer-lyricist Sheryl Crow and book writer Levinson fashion a splendid up-tempo number, “Don’t Give It All Away.” The female patrons rise from their seats and sing to the screen, cheekily warning the picture’s clueless ingénue that her Lothario is up to no good. As if, in the it’s-a-man’s-world culture of 1959, guys would be up to anything else.

The song is successful because it sets the scene in exuberant relief and wittily comments on one of the musical’s major themes: the narrow corridors women were forced into at the time, as housewives, secretaries or sex objects. It’s also the sort of interlude the new musical needs a lot more of, to eradicate what is otherwise a nagging flatness of execution and the sense that Levinson and Crow are still groping for an optimal structure to unite music, characters and story.

[...]

On the upside, count the integrity of Crow’s score, a diversified and at the same time cohesive exhibition of pastiche, in this case, of the musical sounds of the late ’50s. As played by a six-member band conducted by Lon Hoyt, you hear a variety of beats, the influence of doo-wop and early rock-and-roll, sly tributes to Elvis and Little Richard. It doesn’t indulge in camp, a la “Grease” or “Hairspray”; it’s like an alternative universe of Crow-built chart-toppers. The tone ranges from glee (the rafter-raising “Gotta Love Women”) to outrage (the gripping “Tear Down This House”). And if the songs are not perfectly in sync with Levinson’s wryer urbanity (or do not always represent seamless segues), they’re always infused, like much of Crow’s work, with a satisfying melodic urgency."

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DC METRO THEATER ARTS

"Crow's score succeeds in being a wonderful mimicry of the later 1950's teen/young adult tastes. The song titles and lyrics by Crow are worthy of a sly grin, off-center smile and knowing bright eyes. The up-tempo songs bring foot-tapping perkiness to the show. The ballads sell us on the pain of trying to find love. The audience may even think they hear a few bars from a familiar song from the actual period. This is not the case. Crow's nearly 20 song score is all new."

4 out of 5 stars

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D.C. THEATER SCENE

"Opening up Diner to include the flipside of the fabulous Fifties—which were anything but fab for women—is an inspired move and showcases Crow’s talent for incisive lyrical hooks. It seems like a waste to saddle Crow with a ‘50s music pastiche—the doo-wop choruses, the Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard swoops and whoops, the girl group sob stories—but she breaks through the non-novelty of the nostalgic score with the standout torch songs “Tear Down This House,” “Don’t” and “Every Man Needs a Woman.” In all three songs, Crow powerfully conveys the frustrations the women of this period feel as they are crammed into the constricting roles of housewife, secretary or sexual plaything."

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THEATERMANIA.COM

"Each of Levinson's scenes is built around a song — some slow and touching, some with a swinging rock 'n' roll sound. Crow's expertise as a singer and songwriter is immediately recognizable in her clever melodies and imaginative lyrics. The numbers don't sound like contemporary Crow songs. Instead, they throw back to 1959 and feel as though they were composed by an artist who really understood the doo-wop imperative."

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WASHINGTON LIFE MAGAZINE

[...] There might have been some concern that new music, instead of the familiar hits of the 1950s, might be jarring. Crow, however, has created a score that successfully respects and recreates the sounds of that “rock and doo-wop” era. [...]

[...] A major difference in the musical is that Levinson has written more meaningful roles for the women, who also are highlighted in Crow’s songs, “Don’t” and “Every Man Needs a Woman.” One of the characters, the driven Barbara (Whitney Bashor), is working toward a career as a television executive, an area generally closed to women in the ’50s. [...]

[...] Crow has been careful in writing her music to be respectful of the ’50s. Her “Darling It’s You” could have been a top ten hit.

[...] Much of the music is energetic and lively [...]

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BRIGHTEST YOUNG THINGS
Critic: Alan Zilberman

[...] Given the time period and Crow’s pop sensibilities, the songs are a mix of R&B, rock, and doo-wop, except tweaked slightly so they also have a cleaner Broadway sound. While the ensemble numbers are fun, with energetic choreography and surprising costume changes, the best songs are the smaller-scale ones. This is probably because one character signing (or two) will arrive at some sort of minor emotional epiphany, and because Sheryl Crow’s best songs sound like they’re for one specific person (“If It Makes You Happy” still holds up, give it another listen). Shrevie and Eddie share a song called “It’s Good,” where they croon about the modest appeal of marriage with a mix of warmth and scorn. An independently-minded woman named Barbara (Whitney Bashnor) signs “Don’t” when the man in her life tries to assert that he knows what’s better for her than she does (he doesn’t). Still, the most entertaining songs involve Fenwick since self-destruction is hilarious in the context of a musical, and Thomas has a soulful, involving voice. “Last Man Standing,” the last song of Act One that’s sung by Fenwick and the ensemble performers, is a show-stopper with a conceit that’s cheerfully sacrilege.

If Diner was just a revue of Crow’s attempt at a nostalgic musical, it’d be a smashing success. [...]

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WASHINGTON JEWISH WEEK
Critic: Lisa Traiger

[...] Crow’s score draws from a pastiche of 1950s styles: early roots rock ’n roll, R&B, harmonic girl-and-boy groups, doo wop and ballads. Her songs work best in the second act, where they are more intimate and story-driven – a Crow trademark in her pop career. [...]

[...] There’s the early upbeat number “Working on a Brand New Groove,” at the Christmas party, and the cautionary “Don’t Give It All Away” to accompany the infamous movie theater scene with Boogie making good on a bet with his girl and a trick box of popcorn. Later, in Act 2, the battle of the sexes is highlighted again in “The Games We Play” for all the boys plus Elyse, “Every Man Needs a Woman” and the burlesque “Gotta Lotta Woman.” [...]

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METRO WEEKLY
Critic: Doug Rule

[...] Accomplished Tony-winning director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall was enlisted to flesh out the stories and freshen up the material for a live environment. Marshall and Levinson, who adapted his script, charged the equally accomplished Grammy-winning pop star Sheryl Crow to write original music and lyrics capturing the 1950s, when an edgier pop sound was just starting to find flavor out of a stew of R&B, blues and country.

In the end it’s only the music that lives up to the challenge. [...]

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