Daniel Zaitchik's new musical (he wrote the songs and the book) is a sweet little show that works very, very hard to keep things real—believable characters, believable dialogue, a story that feels like a slice of life. But Zaitchik's premise is as old as musical comedy: a quirky young composer with writer's block falls in love with a struggling young actor in a Broadway musical just waiting for her big break. Every few minutes another cliche pops up—he drinks too much, she wants to save him, the lead actress in the Broadway musical is a real witch—but the beauty of Zaitchik's work is how gracefully he (most of the time) avoids falling into easy tropes. Still, the story does drag, especially in the second act, and the show ends with a whimper, not a bang.
It's Zaitchik's score that really sells the thing. Zaitchik's tunes are reminiscent of old standards, but not slavishly so, and his lyrics are bright and clever. Like the best classics in the Great American Songbook, they reward careful listening. Indeed, Zaitchik wrote many of the songs first, and then crafted his story to showcase them. The show's leads, Heath Saunders and Katherine Thomas, do the material proud, savoring every clever line without overdoing it. They handle the frequently witty dialogue with similar finesse, exhibiting considerable chemistry.
Darling Grenadine is more quirky and personal than Marriott's more traditional Broadway fare, but it is refreshing to see the theater do the kind of intimate show one is more likely to see in a storefront theater or crammed into a cabaret. v