Benny & Joon

Regional-at Paper Mill Playhouse

Jack Cummings III directs this touching and amusing new musical about a family dealing with loss, love and mental illness and it’s ups,  downs,  and in-betweens in this new rom-com musical adapted from the 1993 film of the same name.

After their parent’s untimely death, Benny (Claybourne Elder) and Joon (Hannah Elless) are all each other has.  While they are both adults in their 20’s/30’s, Joon needs special care due to bouts with schizophrenia, and Benny’s whole life obsesses around her care, in addition to running his auto mechanic business.    The big turn comes during the weekly poker game with the guys from the auto shop.  Benny gets called away suddenly and Joon sits in. They don’t bet money, but their belongings and in this case Joon bets Mike (Colin Hanlon) must paint her house, and Mike bets away has strange cousin Sam (Bryce Pinkham).  Sam has recently come to live with Mike, and is driving him crazy with his peculiar ways.   Of course, Joon loses, and Benny returns to find out that Sam is moving in.   Cousin Sam is an odd, quirky, socially awkward fellow who turns into characters from old movies as a way to communicate.   He has many tricks up his sleeve, and makes a comical time of mundane daily activities, making grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron and turns dinner into a circus act.   Sam seems to be a perfect complement to Joon, and soon romantic feelings develop between them.  Benny’s life also seems to improve freeing up his time to pursue a relationship with Ruthie (Tatiana Wechsler), a waitress from the neighborhood diner.

There are more than 15 heart-filled musical numbers (Music by Nolan Gasser and Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein) that brighten up the rather dark subject matter. There are creative elements to the set (Dane Laffrey) that includes a back wall that is an aerial view of the town similar to a miniature train setting with trees and houses, moving elements and lights.   The choreography; (Scott Rink) more movement than dance; is full of tricks and surprises including a mind-boggling plate tossing number that is perfectly executed by Pinkham.

It’s been awhile since Bryce Pinkham took the stage in his Tony Award nominated performance in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and he is in fine form, showing off his talents for aerodynamics, impersonations, mime, juggling and roller skating,  gliding easily along the stage as if in a comfortable pair of shoes.  He’s a magic man, and while Elder and Elless have superior chops and are a lovely to look, Bryce steals this show with his well-honed craft.

For some, this might be too lighthearted for the serious subject matter, but with all the ugly in the world, it’s always nice to see kindness, love and a little happily ever after.  Stay tuned for announcements from this Broadway bound musical.  For more information visit -ThisbroadSway 4/28/2019