A Catered Affair began life as a TV play written by Paddy Chayefsky in his kitchen-sink drama style, telling the story of a Bronx taxi driver's wife who wants to stage a big wedding for her daughter that the family can't really afford. Gore Vidal wrote the screenplay for a 1956 movie version starring Bette Davis, and Harvey Fierstein has scripted the musical adaptation with songs by John Bucchino. Fierstein, the author of several gay-oriented stage works (notably the book for La Cage aux Folles) and an accomplished Broadway actor (he played the mother in Hairspray), has gone even deeper into realism than Chayefsky or Vidal dared in the '50s, turning the live-in brother of the wife, a "confirmed bachelor," into the closeted gay man he could not be on TV or in the movies 50 years earlier. Fierstein also plays the part himself, singing in his gruff bass voice. The brother, Winston, is put out because, at least initially, he is not to be invited to the wedding, and he takes his revenge in "Immediate Family," the show's wittiest song and one that perks the score up considerably. Bucchino, in keeping with the small scale of the work, uses a chamber orchestra of only nine musicians and creates modest musical settings in which the various characters get to express their feelings. His lyrics have a touch of Stephen Sondheim in their frankness, but not much sparkle. In the ‘50s, the wonder of the kitchen-sink style was that it seemed to be elevating the lives of ordinary people into the realm of serious drama. A musical further heightens the experiences of these housewives and working people, but also exposes their dreariness. Despite the best efforts of Fierstein, Faith Prince as the wife, and Tom Wopat as the husband, A Catered Affair as a musical doesn't really take off. Its flaws are somewhat hidden on the cast album, however, since the problem of its small scale in a Broadway house doesn't come in. The show probably didn't belong on Broadway (where it didn't stay long), though fans of more serious theatrical flare might appreciate it in another forum.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|A Catered Affair, musical|