Martin Short Brings Zaniness to Simon's `Goodbye Girl'

THE GOODBYE GIRL Musical comedy with book by Neil Simon. Music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by David Zippel. At the Marquis Theatre.

THE GOODBYE GIRL" is a sparkling new arrival on Broadway. The musical has the best of two out of three worlds. Its book is vintage Neil Simon comedy. Martin Short, in his Broadway debut, takes even Simon's genius to dizzyingly funny new heights.

Simon and Short may be the most successful writing and acting comedy duo in modern American theater.

Short, who plays idiosyncratic actor Elliot Garfield, combines the timing of a Charlie Chaplin with the engaging personality of a Fred Astaire. He can sing pretty well, too.

Marvin Hamlisch's music is the biggest disappointment in "The Goodbye Girl." His score is catchy but seldom soaring. Hamlisch, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his score for Broadway's longest running musical "A Chorus Line," previously collaborated with Neil Simon on the immensely entertaining "They're Playing Our Song." David Zippel's lyrics are clever and refreshingly upbeat. But they cannot compensate for Hamlisch's lackluster score.

Nevertheless, "The Goodbye Girl" is first-rate escapist fun, coming at a time when belly laughs and even a little sentiment have never been more needed on the Great White Way, or for that matter, in New York City.

Broadway veteran Bernadette Peters brings her own blend of understated charm and befuddlement to the title role. Her performance suffers a little in the reflected light of Short's standout debut.

THE musical is helped enormously by an excellent supporting cast. Designer Santo Loquasto's splashy sets also manage to capture a heartwarming sense of New York City.

"The Goodbye Girl" is buoyantly directed by Michael Kidd, a Broadway legend himself. It is surprising, however, that Kidd, who was brought in to shore up the show after its shaky start in Chicago, did not cut two extraneous musical numbers out of an overlong Act II.

This new musical is based on Simon's popular 1977 movie by the same name. Such is his skill as a laugh master that he, with Short's assistance, has succeeded in improving on his original comedy.

The plot concerns Paula McFadden, an actress who has had it with romance, and, in fact, with all actors since several of them have jilted her. When another actor, Elliot Garfield, arrives on the scene having sublet her apartment from the last actor who left her, the two engage in a classic battle of the sexes.

When Elliot finds himself cast in an Off, Off Broadway show playing his long-cherished role of Richard III, he wins Paula's sympathy and eventually her heart.

Make no mistake. "The Goodbye Girl" is light musical comedy. Nothing more. In fact, nothing more is necessary except a better score for this laugh-filled show.

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