Though his songs conjure up Bob Dylan, the protagonist of the new Playwrights Horizons musical "Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky" is more reminiscent of Forrest Gump.
Floyd is a man with a deep Southern drawl who often seems slow on the uptake but compensates with incredibly pure motives, especially when it comes to his (mostly) platonic love - in this case for Clea, a woman many years younger whom he stumbles across one night in Great Falls, Mont.
The object of Floyd's affection moves away to pursue stardom while indulging in all sorts of sins as he waits for her to come to her senses. Floyd stays innocent of the fast-paced world around him, referring at one point to our "culturally frivolous time" and singing about "a simple life." He's one of the few people on Earth still listening to a Walkman. But Floyd is more pitiable than Forrest. He's a sad-sack country singer-songwriter whose bouts with alcoholism have left him living out of his rusted green Studebaker.
Eventually, as expected, the two characters cure each other of their ills in a shameless feel-good story that promotes the value of all that is pure. The musical's good intentions are undermined, however, by its familiarity and lack of narrative drive.
Granted, "Floyd and Clea" - with lyrics and book by David Cale, who also plays Floyd, and music by Cale and Jonathan Kreisberg - seems intended as a hybrid of a revue and a book musical. The country-folk songs are sung as performances (in a bar or to each other) and only hint at the singer's personal feelings.
The songs can be alternately catchy or soulful, but they don't command attention. But the show is not without its charms. The performers serve the songs well. Cale's amusingly quirky but almost too-pathetic Floyd can sometimes become cloying, but he's offset by Mary Faber's refreshingly spunky Clea.
David Korins' whimsical set houses the band in a box-shaped dive bar that hovers, slightly askew, in the middle of the stage, amid piles of white fluff that could pass for either snow or clouds in the Big Sky state.
Watching the band onstage is the high point. The musicians' visibility is much more appealing than having a disembodied mystery noise piped in from upstairs, or even from the pit. Plus, in a two-character show, the band helps to fill the space and keeps the audience's eyes occupied.
Many may find "Floyd and Clea" a sweet, toe-tapping evening, and heartwarming in a "Tuesdays With Morrie" sort of way. Still, it's hard not to be frustrated by a musical whose narrative fails to transport us anywhere unpredictable or unknown. To butcher Mr. Gump's line, what makes that box of chocolates so enticing is not knowing what you're going to get.
FLOYD AND CLEA UNDER THE WESTERN SKY. Music by Jonathan Kreisberg and David Cale, book and lyrics by Cale, directed by Joe Calarco. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St. Tickets $65. Call 212-279-4200 or visit ticketcentral.com. Seen at Thursday preview.