Review: Sarah Silverman's 'Bedwetter' Musical Leaked

Zingy, 10-year-old Sarah Silverman (Zoe Glick) isn’t a natural fit for the town of Bedford, NH, where sour and flint fatalism is the nor...


Zingy, 10-year-old Sarah Silverman (Zoe Glick) isn’t a natural fit for the town of Bedford, NH, where sour and flint fatalism is the norm. “May all your dreams come true,” says a resident at a birthday party. “Mine didn’t.”

The Silvermans, dropping anchor the new musical “The Bedwetter”, are resolutely anti-conformist: all id, all the time. Sarah’s recently divorced father, the owner of Crazy Donny’s Factory Outlet (Darren Goldstein), encourages her to wow her new classmates with the dirty jokes he taught her. Dipso Nana (Bebe Neuwirth) thinks Sarah’s bartending skills are a better bet to impress. And while Sarah’s mother, Beth Ann (Caissie Levy), expresses herself by spending days in bed watching old movies, Sarah, perhaps taking the family mojo too far, does so by wetting her own. night.

Yet she’s happily resigned to being a misfit, not even taking offense when her sister, Laura (Emily Zimmerman), wanting nothing to do with her in public, sings a song called “I Don’t Know That Person.” . And to beat her new fifth-grade classmates to the punch, Sarah preemptively tells them, in “I Couldn’t Agree More,” that she’s “eww-y” and “Jewy.” Not only are her arms “so hairy,” but “you should see my back.”

As satisfying as the stand-up pacing is, “The Bedwetter,” which opened Tuesday at the Linda Gross Theater, is, like its titular character, sometimes a bit of a misfit. Based on the 2010 memoir of the real Sarah Silverman, subtitled “Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Wee,” it works best when aiming for the comedic heights of this lovely but lanky book. As long as it stays close to young Sarah’s resilience as she tries to make friends without revealing her mortifying condition, “The Bedwetter,” an Atlantic Theater Company production, is pot-mouth fun. But turning the original into a more serious musical format as it goes, it only achieves mediocre cuteness.

It starts off quite promisingly, establishing the main characters efficiently and with good humor. The songs, with music by Adam Schlesinger and lyrics by Schlesinger and Silverman, have the cheesy irreverence and synthetic availability of vintage television jingles – the period being the early 1980s. Donny’s numbers, performed with a schlubby recklessness by Goldstein, are a highlight, including one, the chorus of which cannot be printed here, which explains how he knows all the mothers of the other girls. Perhaps you can imagine what rhymes with “along”.

But some of that sound goes a long way, much like Silverman’s naive mismatch, so effective in his stand-up, only works the first few times onstage. When Sarah, introducing herself to her class, mentions a dead brother, her reflex not to sound pitiful makes her explanation oddly funny: “He was like a baby, so it wasn’t sad or anything.” But when that death — and plenty of other dark material — comes to the fore, the laughs run out.

If such moments don’t seem out of place in Silverman’s memoir, it’s partly because his episodic tale leaps like a frog through 40 years of his life, passing the most disturbing events quickly. And while it makes sense for the musical’s writers to narrow the focus and shorten the length, Joshua Harmon’s (“Bad Jews”) and Silverman’s book goes too far; by trying to fill the story with drama to justify adding songs, they put too much pressure on the year it represents.

This is the year Sarah arrives at McKelvie Middle School, manages to make enemies of three classmates, and at the end of the first act, in an unconvincing scene involving diapers, discovers the one thing she hoped to keep secret. The second act deals with Sarah’s resulting depression – a state uncomfortably reminiscent of Beth Ann’s – as well as Nana’s mortality and the suicide of a minor character.

The music, and especially the lyrics, can’t handle this shift into “Fun Home” territory. (In her black wig, Glick, a very talented 14-year-old, already seems to be playing the young lead on this show.) “being covered by the Partridge family – feels flimsy in heavier material, especially overdramatic arias by Beth Ann. (Levy sings them beautifully, though.) As a result, the show seems to leak, losing all of its giddy energy as it sinks into seriousness.

It’s a pity, especially since Schlesinger, died of complications from Covid-19 in 2020, could not finish developing the musical with his collaborators. (Songwriter David Yazbek joined the team as a “creative consultant”.) Schlesinger’s songs for the 2008 stage version of “Cry Baby” (written with David Javerbaum), as well as his background in the pop-rock band Fountains of Wayne, demonstrated a quick ear for neat hooks but not yet the kind of complexity needed to convey theatrical emotion. And his lyrics with Silverman too often wander in search of a rhyme, then, upon spotting one in the distance, botched it.

Much of this could have been improved if Schlesinger had lived. And many could still have been camouflaged by strong staging. But “The Bedwetter” doesn’t understand that, at least in this incarnation; the usually sharp director Anne Kauffman, working to an awkward setting by Laura Jellinek, seems to be opting for a college aesthetic to match her background. Even at two o’clock, the show seems unnecessarily lengthened by shifts from one vague location to another — and by numbers, including one on Xanax, that stretch far beyond their welcome.

About that Xanax: It’s a bizarre omission in the musical that doesn’t highlight, as the book clearly does, the role that the massive over-prescription of this drug played in Sarah’s depression. (At 14, she was taking 16 pills a day.) This was perhaps a choice to make the drama more emotional than pharmaceutical, but in any case it further weighs down what is already a weak plotline about a weak bladder. But many of the show’s choices, like promoting a Miss New Hampshire character (suitably adorable Ashley Blanchet) from cameo to mascot, seem just as random. That’s true of Silverman’s comedy in general, built as it is on seemingly random shifts in tone and content.

While that kind of randomness can be a compelling aesthetic in some art forms, I’ve never seen it work in musicals, where “it seems weird enough to work” never works. A show that works on this principle can still reach a few heights; Neuwirth, dry and suave, certainly knows how to find them. The song in which she tells Sarah, warmly but practically, “You’re beautiful – to me,” is one of the few serious numbers that lands. Too often, the rest of “The Bedwetter,” at least when aiming for tears, just feels wet.

Bedwetting
Through July 3 at the Linda Gross Theatre, Manhattan; atlantictheater.org. Operating time: 2 hours.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: Sarah Silverman's 'Bedwetter' Musical Leaked
Review: Sarah Silverman's 'Bedwetter' Musical Leaked
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