Painting It Red, Zebra Crossing Theatre. At its best this new musical suggests a way out of the rut musical theater is in: Take the storefront approach. Aim lower. You don't need flying chandeliers, dancing spoons, or a whole freaking orchestra. All you need are characters, a plot, a bare stage, a guitar, and maybe a table and drum kit. But at its worst this Zebra Crossing production demonstrates just how far its storefront approach has to go.
Part sitcom and part mellow rock concert, Painting It Red uses sketch-comedy scenes to chronicle waitress-songwriter Liz's goofy relationships with a restaurant critic, an NPR talk-show host, and a chimney sweep, while Gary Rue and Leslie Ball's songs convey Liz's deeply conflicted responses to her suitors. The trouble is that the songs and script seem to have been written separately, as if Rue and Ball had little interaction with book writer Steven Dietz. His one-liners may be weak ("My standards are so high they should be an Olympic event"), but his dialogue has a wonderfully loopy airiness, and Liz's doomed relationships are fodder for genuinely funny if somewhat underdeveloped comedy. Yet Liz's "I'm leaving you" and "Why are you leaving me?" songs are humorless and ridden with cliches, suggesting a subpar hybrid of Patti Smith and Loretta Lynn. Imagine the TV sitcom Ellen with a score by Melissa Etheridge.
Marlene Zuccaro's production is amiable enough and cleverly designed. Elaine Dame as Liz has a winning stage presence and a chameleonlike vocal flexibility, though she often has trouble projecting over the serviceable rock trio. On opening weekend, though, Dame and the other actors seemed tentative, as if awaiting a rewrite that would finally flesh out their characters.