While the effort behind The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is plain to see, the Delray Beach Playhouse's production just can't breathe life into this boring 1964 musical about a boring man. Walter is a husband and father taking stock of his life on his 40th birthday. Unsatisfied as a company man and weary of his hen-pecking wife, Agnes, he engages in frequent daydreams -- a type of self-medication -- that are all too unimaginative. He's an astronaut. He's a surgeon. He's a playboy in a Parisian café. He sticks it to his boss. These Everyman fantasies simply disappoint. Here we are inside Walter Mitty's head, and all we learn is that he wants to be somewhere else. What's more interesting is watching the production cleverly switch from reality to Mitty's daydreams and back. The sets and costumes are vibrant, the 23-member cast is in lockstep, and the lighting and movement on stage is well-directed. But with a script that is only sometimes humorous, the solid production is merely icing on a stale cake. And no, the flawed narrative isn't rescued by the songs. The score, rife with percussion, drifts into droning repetition. Most of the singing is flat, with some subpar standouts. Mitty's womanizing college roommate, Fred Gorman (Floyd Nash), sings the best number, "Hello, I Love You, Goodbye," with flare. Also strong is "Aggie," sung by Agnes Witty (Karen Whaley). Whaley provides the best acting as Mitty's shrill mate, elevating every scene she's in. And Tiara Tragas, a Citrus Cove Elementary School student who plays Mitty's daughter, handled opening night with aplomb. All that might satisfy devout fans of musicals. The rest of us, however, need something more revealing, such as: Why has Mitty reached this low point? We need only look as far as Willy Loman to find a listless main character that we care about. Characters, like people, have a right to be boring. But boring theater? Nobody cares about that. (Through July 10 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW Ninth St., Delray Beach. Call 561-272-1281.)
In his engagingly cute Modern Orthodox, playwright Daniel Goldfarb brings culture clash to temple with a battle between Orthodox Jews and their liberal, Reformed Jew opposites. Yuppie Manhattan financier Ben and his doctor girlfriend, Hannah, may have met their match, though, in young Hasidic diamond merchant Hershel. Hershel, who looks like a Hasidic Beastie Boy, sells Ben an engagement ring and then weasels his way into the couple's apartment. Hershel moves in while he looks for a suitable bride. As he searches, he berates the frazzled Ben and Hannah for their slackness of religion until they surreptitiously place an online personals ad that connects him with quirky but Orthodox Rachel. The production's comedic timing is on, although that doesn't always save the play from its muddled plot. Starring Benim Foster, Jason Schuchman, Rachel Jones, and Margery Lowe. (Through July 31 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7873 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Call 561-241-7432).
William Shakespeare needs no excuse. And the Shakespeare Project 2005, an ambitious summerlong festival now on stage at the New Theatre, holds the immense promise of some of the most exciting drama the world has known. Romeo and Juliet, which will be followed at the New Theatre by The Merchant of Venice in July and by Macbeth in August, already makes good on much of that promise. Rafael de Acha's direction is sensitive and swift. And the best performances -- from Euriamis Losada's irresistible Romeo to Kimberly Daniels' humorous and heartbreaking nurse -- offer revealing, shining facets of that kaleidoscope known as Shakespeare. Here are beautiful actors persuading us that American English is the way to make this verbal music truly sing. There is real life in this festival. (Through July 3 at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables. Call 305-443-5909.)
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