Off Broadway Review: ‘The Wrong Man’

Marilyn Stasio

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Credit songwriter Ross Golan for the seamless quality of “The Wrong Man,” his mesmerizing musical about a good man who deserves a good life but seems to attract nothing but bad luck. The show’s inventive book, music, and lyrics were all penned by this multi-hyphenate talent who was named 2016 BMI Pop Songwriter of the Year for composing such tunes as Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” and Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love.”

Here, Golan has written an intimate life study of a nice guy named Duran, played by the electrifying Joshua Henry of “Carousel” and “The Scottsboro Boys.” Duran lives in Reno, Nevada, and in the haunting opening song (“The Wrong Man”) takes “an existential dive” into the depths of his soul, revealing a bad case of imposter syndrome and low self-esteem.

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Prodded by an ensemble of highly acrobatic, if at times annoyingly intrusive, singer-dancers (choreographed by Travis Wall), Duran mourns a lost relationship (“What Happens Here”) that for a while gave meaning to his otherwise undistinguished life.  In the same stream-of-consciousness vein, he wonders in “Sees Me for Me” if he’ll ever find a person who will love him for himself.

His despairing prayer is heard by Mariana, who takes it upon herself to mend Duran’s broken heart. As played — and dramatically sung — by the scintillating Ciara Renée (Hawkgirl in “Legends of Tomorrow”), Mariana is smart, good-hearted and incredibly sexy. Duran woos this gorgeous creature with a passionate if unsubtle song called “Take Off Your Clothes.”

Throughout the musical, Golan’s lyrics are just as direct and unadorned, but always painfully honest — and from time to time, those raw feelings hold their tongues and let intelligent thought have a say. The songs have unmistakable power, and with Henry and Renee embracing their fated roles, they also have palpable sincerity.

The rap-inflected pop score is sung through, which smoothly integrates the music with Duran’s introspective monologues. Arranger-orchestrator Alex Lacamoire executed that same feat in “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” to establish a similar sense of theatrical unity. Rachel Hauck’s set, Nevin Steinberg’s soundscape and especially Betsy Adams’ mood-reflecting lighting make their own contributions to the exquisite harmony of this unusual show.

Thomas Kail’s intimate direction is further enhanced by the physical staging of the show, with bleachers of spectators stacked on either side of the stage. The back wall provides a dedicated spot for the musicians, a phenomenal group composed of Taylor Peckham (conductor / keyboard), Dillon Kondor (guitar), Vin Landolfi (guitar), Alex Eckhardt (a killer on bass), and Jamie Eblen (a dynamo on drums).

Think of this one as immersive theater with great music.

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