(Lauren Mechling’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/29; Photo:  Brian d’Arcy James  and Kelli O’Hara/Photograph: Joan Marcus.)

Studio 54, New York

Song-heavy adaptation of the bruising 1962 Blake Edwards drama about a couple grappling with addiction makes for a surprising success

It’s probably a good thing there’s no intermission in Days of Wine and Roses, the musical adaptation of Blake Edwards’s 1962 film. The harrowing and hugely captivating Broadway production wastes no time diving into the toll that alcoholism takes on married couple Kirsten and Joe Clay, and it’s doubtful any audience member would be inclined to pony up for a mid-show sippy cup of Chardonnay. Director Michael Greif’s production is shot through with heartache and hangovers, and worth all the squirming in your seat.

Twenty-one years in the making, this version of the classic starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick incorporates music that manages to underscore the mood without watering down the story’s intensity. The songbook (music and lyrics by Adam Guettel) is full of minor keys and suffused with a darkness that is rare for a star-studded Broadway extravaganza (Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James carry the show). No matter how gorgeous the voice of O’Hara – who sings the majority of the tunes – nobody bursts into a larger-than-life medley. (Though a bouffant and bombed Kirsten’s manic and musical vacuum cleaning session comes pretty close.)

The script and songs bleed into one another, with plenty of opera-like sing-talking that strikes a smart and serious tone. For all their sophistication, these numbers are low-slung and moody, and likely won’t appear on your favorite Peloton instructor’s upcoming Showtunes-themed playlist.

Korean war vet turned PR dynamo Joe (played by James, who inhabits his role with mid-century machismo) meets spritely and initially Sprite-sipping Kirsten at a work event. When we first lay eyes on Joe, he is aboard a booze cruise filled with the smorgasbord of comely women he has arranged for his bosses’ pleasure. He homes in on the innocent and beautiful executive assistant.

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