By Martin F. Kohn
With apologies for talking about him in the past tense — he is alive and productive in 2010 — Neil Sedaka was a transitional figure in rock ‘n’ roll, churning out a string of hits in the years between its American genesis and the British invasion.
That would place the epicenter of his popularity squarely in 1960, the setting of “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” which is a Neil Sedaka musical the way “Mamma Mia” is an ABBA musical or “Movin’ Out” is a Billy Joel musical: The songs were just standing there minding their own business when somebody else came along, built a story around them and put them on the stage. With two people credited as writers, two others with the concept and Sedaka himself as creative consultant, it’s hard to pinpoint who did what.
Happily, this is not a case of too many chefs impairing the bouillon. The plot is, but it’s a passable framework on which to hang the songs you came to hear in the first place. “Breaking Up,” which premiered in 2005 and underwent subsequent tweaking, arrives at Meadow Brook Theatre as perky, peppy and pop as you might expect if you know the Sedaka oeuvre.
Perky, Pepe and Pop are not, by the way, the names of ballroom dancing instructors at Esther’s Paradise, the Catskills resort where “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” is set, although they’d fit right in with the place’s corny, upbeat nature.
And you don’t get more corny and upbeat than Del Delmonaco, Esther’s Elvis-haired headliner, a singer who thinks the world revolves around him, played by Billy Konsoer with an abundance of narcissistic verve.
Del’s chief compadres are cornball comedian Harvey (Tobin Hissong) and man-of-all-work Gabe (Jamie Kolacki). Good guys both, they harbors secrets, not especially deep, not particularly dark, but secrets nonetheless. And then there’s Esther, the resort’s owner, played with brassy, Big Apple charm by Mary Robin Roth.
All are excellent singers, as are the two other performers, Andrea Mellos and Katie Hardy, who play pals Lois and Marge, guests at the resort without whom there would be no plot. Nor would there be a title for the show. See, Marge’s fiance just broke up with her at the altar, but since the honeymoon was already paid for, Marge takes Lois with her to Esther’s and many romantic complications follow.
Having so many good voices works out nicely, since there are 19 songs to be sung here (some twice) and a nice variety of voices to do the job. Except for “Run, Samson, Run,” all of Sedaka’s biggies are present: the ones he sang himself, like the title song, “Calendar Girl,” “Oh, Carol” (although there is no character named Carol in the show), “King of Clowns” and “Laughter in the Rain,” and songs he wrote for others, like “Stupid Cupid,” “Solitaire” and “Love Will Keep Us Together.”
Keeping this tuneful romantic comedy together are director Travis W. Walter, his cast and the show’s secret weapon — the four musicians, including pianist-conductor Stacy White, who also provide unobtrusive vocal backup.
Collectively, they serve up a bunch of Sedaka hits (and a miss or two) with great affection and a dash of heart and humor.
‘Breaking Up is Hard to Do’
Meadow Brook Theatre, 2200 N. Squirrel Rd., Rochester. Wednesday-Sunday through May 16. $24-$39. 248-377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com