One might think that the plot of the film “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” which came out in 1969 when depicting wife-swapping was considered so outré, would be old hat by now. Ditto with the characters smoking pot. But sex of any variety never seems to go out of style. Thus adapting the film into a play with music, as presented by The New Group, doesn’t seem dated and emerges as enjoyable.
The music by Duncan Sheik, with lyrics that he wrote with Amanda Green and with musical staging by Kelly Devine in the show directed by Scott Elliott, is not in-your-face dynamic but easygoing and seductive in tune with the overall tone of the production. The cast members, each of whom is excellent, also function smoothly within the concept.
In the film, directed by Paul Mazursky, who wrote the screenplay with Larry Tucker, the stars were Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon. Despite the titillation, there was a disappointing copout ending. In this new form, with the book by Jonathan Marc Sherman, the stars are Joél Pérez as Bob, Jennifer Damiano as Carol, Michael Zegen as Ted and Ana Nogueira as Alice. You can ponder whether the four winding up in bed together have had sex or perhaps just foreplay—only the kissing is shown. But in the aftermath one gets the impression that the four have gotten whatever stirred desires and emotional justifications out of their systems and the interchange won’t happen again.
We are led into the story by Suzanne Vega as a character called Band Leader, who does a singing narration, and she is exquisitely low-key and inviting as she seduces us into following the journey of the two friendly couples. The musicians include music director Jason Hart, keyboards; Simon Kafka, guitars/sitar/bass; Noelle Rueschman, reeds, and Jamie Mohamden, bass/drums. The accompaniment is pleasingly integrated when the performers take turns at the mikes to sing.
The couples, who live in Los Angeles, attend one of those retreats geared to encouraging participants to unwind and express themselves as to their inner thoughts and feelings. That’s the springboard for what follows--confessions of infidelity, determination to show what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and eventually ideas about experimenting with switching partners in their long-time friendship.
The audience is positioned on three sides of the stage and there is one sequence in which audience members are plucked to sit in on a psychological discussion. The result is awkward, as the audience participants haven’t anything to do but just plop there.
What works better is when the cast members select people from the audience to become dance partners. That portion has charm and gives an edge to the idea of intermingling.
“Bob & Carol & Ted and Alice” runs one hour and forty-five minutes and is performed without an intermission. It all evolves amusingly with its candid conversation and sexual undertone, and thanks especially to the cast, score and lyrics, one can leave with the feeling of having enjoyed being with the people portrayed and even somewhat sympathetic to what they were getting into. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 917-935-4242. Reviewed February 5, 2020.