Photo by Jim Cox for the Pasadena Playhouse.
Photo by Jim Cox for the Pasadena Playhouse.

Did you like the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”? Then you might want to avoid this musical version. Ben Toth’s music and Sam Forman’s lyrics fail to capture the whimsy and poignancy of the 1993 movie that starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Jeff Arch’s book remains intact, but that’s small comfort here. The screenplay was co-written with Nora Ephron and David S. Ward.  Ephron also directed the movie.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, a Chicago architect, Sam Baldwin (Hanks) becomes widowed and leaves to start a new life in Seattle (pre-Fraser Crane although David Hyde Pierce does make an appearance).  His young son, Jonah, worries about him and on Christmas Eve calls into a radio talk show where instead of talking to a snooty, pompous psychiatrist or an obnoxious lout, he speaks with a warm, sympathetic talk radio host who then encourages Jonah to have his father take the phone. Although over a year has passed since his wife died, Sam has yet to start dating again and he suffers from insomnia. Sam becomes “Sleepless in Seattle” and a huge hit with listeners nationwide who send letters hoping to win his heart.

On the other side of the country, a Baltimore Sun reporter, Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) hears Sam’s phone call. She’s already engaged to the perfectly decent Walter, but she decides to write a letter and connecting to the impossible and improbably romantic 1957 film, “An Affair to Remember,” she asks Sam to meet her on the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. When Sam doesn’t accept Annie’s invitation–Sam has already started dating a woman named Victoria–his son Jonah runs away to the Empire State Building in search of Annie.

The movie’s score included many classics such as “As Time Goes By” and “Make Someone Happy” by Jimmy Durante (Durante died in 1980), “A Kiss to Build a Dream on” by Louis Armstrong (d. 1971), “Stardust” by Nat King Cole (d. 1965), “Makin’ Whoopee!” (which was popularized by Eddie Cantor in 1928 but in the movie soundtrack was covered by Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones), “Back in the Saddle Again” by Gene Autry, “When I Fall in Love” (a 1952 hit for Doris Day covered by Celine Dion and Clive Griffin)  and “Bye Bye Blackbird’ (a 1926 song covered in the movie by Joe Cocker).More recent tunes on the soundtrack were Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” and  Harry Connick Jr.’s “A Wink and a Smile.”   Of course with the movie tie-in, the soundtrack includes the theme “An Affair to Remember.”

The musical doesn’t use any of those songs. None of the tunes come close to rivaling the sentimental yearning of the original score and none of the melodies linger in one’s mind, leading me to believe that the score for the musical, while serviceable enough, is not destined to produce any classics.

Instead of keeping the theme of thoughtful, whimsical romance, the score goes for a more common date route, including a meat market number about the hot bar scene in Seattle. There’s nothing very Cary Grant about the Act One song “Don’t Give Up on Cary” which refers to Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr star-crossed lovers of “An Affair to Remember.”

I don’t recall anything being particularly wrong with Annie’s fiancé Walter (Bill Pullman) in the movie. The musical sets him up as a loser by making sure we know he not only has allergies, but also needs an asthma inhaler. That’s a lazy way of telling us that Annie could do better.

As Sam, Tim Martin Gleason has that ordinary guyness that Tom Hanks is known for but with less of the aw-shucks humility of a Hanks or the late Jimmy Stewart. Dressed in khaki pants, and muted colored shirts, Gleason’s Sam most stand-out quality is his voice.

Chandra Lee Schwartz takes on the Meg Ryan role. Her Annie has long curly tresses of blonde hair and she’s perky enough with a lovely warm voice. Of course, we need to have cuteness which Joe West’s Jonah (Carter Thomas, alternate) ably supplies. All three–Gleason, Schwartz and West–have voices that blend well.

Under the direction of Sheldon Epps with choreography by Spencer Liff, the musical as a whole is entertaining enough and the production itself is solid. What is missing is the wistful quality of the music and the classic melodies that recalled the innocence of romantic stories of yesteryear and blended with more contemporary melodies. You could imagine that the old tunes could well have been heard playing on the radio in the early 1990s. This feeling is lost with the Toth and Forman score.

As a fan of the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle” and someone who owns the soundtrack, “Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical,” is a misfire. Rent the movie and revel in the cute chemistry between Hanks and Ryan or Grant and Kerr and then perhaps find a kiss to build a dream on.

“Sleepless in Seattle: The Musical” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse until 23 June 2013. For more information visit the Playhouse’s official website.

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