The new musical "Five Course Love" is described by a press release as "Five dates. Five restaurants. One chance at love." Please let these restaurants not have waiters dressed in humiliating ethnic outfits. Please let there be no running gag involving a dropped tray of plates. Please let there be no phallic-food double entendres like "shriveled jalapeño."
No such luck.
The musical, with book, lyrics and music by Gregg Coffin, starts off promisingly enough, as a dorky guy sings a somewhat charming song about how he hopes tonight's date will end his search for love. But when he gets to the restaurant, we see the waiter in a ridiculous fake cowboy outfit saying things like "around these parts," and we slink down in our chair. It's going to be a long night.
In each of five vignettes, all of which are almost completely sung through, the characters and music reflect the theme of the restaurant in which the story takes place, be it Italian, Texas barbecue or 1950s diner. The scene in the German restaurant is a pastiche of "Cabaret," with lots of leather and scary-looking sex toys. The scene in the Mexican restaurant recalls "Man of La Mancha," with a Don Juan-like Don Quixote and a disgruntled Sancho Panza. Four of the five scenes have similar love-triangle plots.
When the show is not condescending to the audience by trying to milk chuckles out of cultural stereotypes or sex jokes, it has the misguided belief that it has something profound to say. In the German scene, after a woman named Gretchen sees her man walk off with another man, she sings a typically mundane ballad: "So much better I should lock my heart/Than risk repeating how it broke apart." But no matter. We stopped listening to her five minutes earlier, during her Sally Bowlesian number about how women like only men with "a nice oom pah pah."
There's hardly any reason for the restaurant motif; these stories could have taken place anywhere. At no point does any couple go on a date and have dinner. For much of the show, a table is pushed to the side and ignored. The prospect of watching two human beings having an adult conversation is mouth-watering compared to the baloney we're served instead.
Zachary Pincus-Roth is a freelance writer.
FIVE COURSE LOVE. Directed by Emma Griffin. Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, between Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street, Manhattan. Tickets $65, or $25 for same-day rush tickets. Call 212-307-4100, or visit www.ticketmaster.com.