Original Broadway Cast, 1993 (Columbia/Sony) (3 / 5) The Goodbye Girl is a fine movie that was probably not a sound choice for adaptation as a stage musical, even if crafted by gifted, intelligent people, as it was: The Neil Simon plot is too uncomplicated and event-free, the characters too “small” and too few. The resulting show featured three major characters and an irrelevant landlady wandering through massive sets, twice running into some chorus dancers who might have come from a musical playing down the block. Composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist David Zippel certainly know how to write good songs, and their score is never less than professional. But instead of helping to progress the plot, the numbers just slow things down. Martin Short as Elliot got the best of the songs: “My Rules,” “I Think I Can Play This Part,” and “Paula: An Improvised Love Song,” all of which gave him plenty of room to clown. Top-billed Bernadette Peters, as Paula, wasn’t so lucky, having been handed some fairly generic ballads; but she does very well when the material is there for her, as in “A Beat Behind” and “Good News/Bad News.” The orchestrations of Billy Byers and Torrie Zito are slick and sharp, and the album is quite pleasant to listen to even if the score is never inspired. — David Wolf
Original London Cast, 1997 (First Night) (1 / 5) Four years after the failure of The Goodbye Girl on Broadway, Neil Simon tried again, this time in London. He brought along composer Marvin Hamlisch but, for whatever reason, not lyricist David Zippel. So, except for the two best Zippel songs — “My Rules” and “Good News/Bad News” — this is an entirely new score with lyrics by Don Black. And it’s much worse. Zippel, an extremely clever wordsmith, wrote lyrics that were always believable extensions of the script. Black’s are just pop songs. For the most part, they’re vague, uninteresting, and difficult to understand. (One lyric goes: “I’Il take the sky / I’ll take the moon / I’ll take the child with the yellow balloon.”) The basic flatness of the characters doesn’t help; nor does Ann Crumb as Paula, whose diction is simply terrible. And Gary Wilmot is unimpressive as Elliot. Hamlisch’s new music is loud and, in an attempt to be more “contemporary,” uncharacteristically ugly — at least, as heard in these trashy arrangements. On Broadway, The Goodbye Girl was a classy failure, but this version sounds like just another flop. — D.W.