By Rick Rogers For The Oklahoman
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Mann is the protagonist in “Mann… and Wife,” a new musical receiving its world premiere this month at Lyric at the Plaza. Michael Baron directs the production, the third in a series of new musicals being staged at Lyric Theatre.
Written by Dan Elish and Douglas J. Cohen, this humorous look at the contemporary dating scene stars Zachary Prince as the romantically challenged Mann. Joining him are Liz Shivener as the various women in his life, and Mateja Govich as his roommate Glenn. Their story plays out against Adam Koch’s attractive urban set.
Despite having been dumped by his ex-girlfriend Sheila right after he proposed, Mann wastes little time in rushing back into the dating game. He alternately hooks up with Christine, a mild-mannered schoolteacher, and Tamar, a vivacious but quirky girl.
But while Mann is intent on finding a wife, he’s equally insistent on finding someone he can take to Sheila’s wedding. If all else fails, Glenn suggests that he take his niece Jill. But she’s only 8 years old, and that wouldn’t exactly make Sheila jealous.
Elish crafted the libretto for “Mann… and Wife” from his novel “Nine Wives.” Cohen’s music, which is performed by a small onstage combo, is frequently tuneful, but it’s the collaborators’ lyrics that most impress: “She was windblown and calm. A heavenly confection of preppie aplomb.”
Govich plays Glenn with characteristic confidence and just the right dose of eccentricity. Unfortunately, he also gets saddled with portraying an oily lounge singer, a Hispanic Jay Gatsby and a talking chimp. Govich and Prince do get to share the lovely ballad “The Unromantic Things,” a number that chronicles the simple joys found in marriage.Shivener has the onerous task of playing all the women in Henry’s life, from his crass, overbearing mother to the seductive Sheila. But she’s most impressive as the earnest Christine and the free-spirited Tamar. That she manages to give each a distinctive voice shows her acting range. Shivener is particularly persuasive in “It’s Only a First Date,” a clever number in which Christine fondly reminisces about meeting Henry.
Prince deftly captures Mann’s neurotic behavior, from conjuring images of a perfect marriage to the embarrassment of becoming aroused on the dance floor. Prince also possesses an attractive voice used to fine effect in “The Right Time to Propose.”
If “Mann … and Wife” takes some occasional detours that seem irrelevant to the story (the talking chimp, a reading of Henry’s “The Green Light”), it effectively captures the joys and frustrations of the modern dating scene. Here’s hoping it has a promising future.