Burt Bacharach may have been the last adult to write pop music. After the '70s, pop became the province of teenagers and older people pretending to be teenagers. "The Look of Love: The Songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David" is a revue based on their hit songs. The sheer number is impressive: "Raindrops Keep Falling," "Walk On By," "What's New, Pussycat?" and "Close to You," to name a few. Director Scott Ellis and choreographer Ann Reinking have fashioned a marvelous trip back in time through these songs. But these are not theater songs, which is to say, they're not dramatic monologues. Their natural habitat is cocktail lounges, which may themselves now constitute an endangered species. David's lyrics are serviceable in the way they flow with the music. Because they are generally so bland, they actually sound more interesting when Kevin Ceballo sings "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" in elegantly articulated Spanish. The cast members have mellow voices, and they know how to get the most out of the songs, especially Capathia Jenkins. Liz Callaway doesn't really get to use her abundant dramatic talents, but she does bring some spirit to "Knowing When to Leave."
What gives "The Look of Love" theatrical power is the fiery dancing, an artful blend of classic and contemporary steps Reinking has devised for the stunning Desmond Richardson. The '60s and early '70s were sartorially one of the darkest periods in our history; costume designer Martin Pakledinaz has not been able to transcend that. Derek McLane's sets use chain-link fencing in an oddly graceful way. Don Sebesky's orchestrations and David Loud's arrangements capture the flavor of the period smartly. "The Look of Love" might be trimmed, because there is a sameness about some of the material, but it is a beguiling exercise in nostalgia.
Imagine being in a stalled elevator with only the anodyne beat of disco Muzak for company. Such is the effect of "The Look of Love," which opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Maybe that's not quite fair - but after being bored for two hours, must you really be fair? - because a few talented members of the cast are trapped there with you.
This Roundabout Theater Company production is based on the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David and "conceived" by David Thompson, Scott Ellis, David Loud and Ann Reinking.
What they've come up with is less a "conception" than your typical revue, which had its last successful workouts in "Smokey Joe's Café" and "Fosse."
The trouble here is that the material doesn't sustain the format, which is worn threadbare in the first 15 minutes.
Bacharach is best taken in small doses, perhaps one song at a time.
Taken together, his songs sound astonishingly similar. Although David's lyrics vary quite a bit, the numbers themselves simply seem to be either faster or slower versions of the same template.
Admittedly, I have walked for miles happily humming "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," but in a theater, too many raindrops can turn into Chinese water torture.
Maybe Don Sebesky's orchestrations have slid into a rut, or perhaps, in choosing the songs, the "conceivers" chose familiarity over variety. Whatever, the program seems monotonously uninspired.
Derek McLane's setting features large cages - oddly apt, given the circumstances - while Martin Pakledinaz's costumes are easy on the eye.
Ellis has staged it as best he could, but Reinking's choreography is unexpectedly disappointing, especially when she has at her disposal such a fine dancer, Desmond Richardson. Here he's splendid but underutilized.
The show certainly doesn't lack for talent. Eugene Fleming, a Broadway veteran, is his usual suave self, and both Liz Callaway and Jonathan Dokuchitz fight the good fight with particular aplomb.
But save for die-hard Bacharach fans - and his record sales suggest their name must be legion - "A Look of Love" scarcely merits a passing glance.
Of course, if your name happens to be Legion . . .
The composer Burt Bacharach and the lyricist Hal David write confectionary songs with stick-in-the-mind melodic phrases and tidy, if none too probing, ruminations on human emotions: ''What's it all about, Alfie?'' is about as heavy as they ever get.
Their myriad hits (and there are more than you might at first recall) include ''I Say a Little Prayer,'' ''Always Something There to Remind Me'' and ''Close to You,'' standards of easy listening that buoyed the careers of vocalists like Dionne Warwick and the Carpenters. Generally speaking, they're pleasant enough trifles that won't make you switch stations on the car radio.
That this is quality enough to build a Broadway show around, however, might well make you want to wring your hands and ask out loud: Has it come to this?
Alas it has, in ''The Look of Love,'' the revue of the work of the Bachrach-David songwriting team, which opened last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, and which just goes to prove you can have far too much of an O.K. thing. One of the things this show achieves is precisely the opposite of its intent. Hearing 29 Bachrach-David songs one after another only makes you realize how limited their range has been, how bland their musical and lyrical palettes are and how little interest they have shown in venturing away from a commercially viable blueprint. With rare exceptions, like ''Walk on By,'' their substance is all style.
But there is worse to report. As theater ''The Look of Love'' is breathtakingly uninspired. To begin at the beginning, David Thompson, Scott Ellis, David Loud and Ann Reinking -- four accomplished people -- are credited with conceiving the show, but there is no discernible concept. The show consists of one song sung after another, by one or more of the company's ensemble of eight, all of whom have sweet, strong and pitch-accurate but characterless (not to mention overmiked) voices.
Some of the numbers are staged like skits; others are dance numbers. None are especially striking. At one point, as Kevin Ceballo sings ''Yo Nunca Volvere Amar'' (that's ''I'll Never Fall in Love Again'' in Spanish), a leggy dancer, Shannon Lewis, performs a tortuous ballet solo, and especially with the glittery, melodramatic lighting by Howell Binkley, you may have the feeling that it was a number cut from an Oscar telecast.
Though some of the ensemble members are gifted dancers -- both Ms. Lewis and Desmond Richardson have ballet chops -- Ms. Reinking's choreography is second-tier stuff, not even close to her usual standard. Her tribute to Bob Fosse, a sex-kitten number performed by Ms. Lewis, Janine LaManna and Rachelle Rak to ''What's New Pussycat?'' is more vulgar than sexy and feels less like a homage to her mentor than a steal from her own work on ''Chicago.'' A tap duet by Eugene Fleming and Mr. Richardson to the accompaniment of ''Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head'' is so retrograde as to be downright embarrassing.
Every now and then with its references to the cultures of the Carnaby Street 1960's (a tie-dyed or polka-dot backdrop) or the suburban mall 1970's (some big hairdos and giggly, boy-hungry behavior from the women) it seems as though the show is sending itself up, but you can't really be sure. In any case there is no theme that runs through the show, and the elements of some of the individual numbers are in conflict with one another. Why are the four singers who perform ''Do You Know the Way to San Jose?'' as a variation on a barbershop quartet dressed in the knit caps and baggy street clothes of urban homeboys?
The costumes were ostensibly designed by Martin Pakledinaz, but overall they are so peculiarly eclectic and undistinguished that you may think the performers are simply wearing their own clothes.
All of this is presented on a set by Derek McLane made of curved platforms and staircases, mostly wrapped in fencing, so it looks to have been concocted from the leftovers of an amusement park; the same set could easily be used for a musical that takes place in a prison.
In sum, the director Scott Ellis has presided over an unaccountably lazy production that appears aimed at an audience old enough to relish a good wallow in nostalgia without actually expecting anything new, different or especially creative. It's the theater's version of a greatest-hits album relegated to the remainder bin. They have a lot of nerve charging full price.
If your only exposure to the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David has been the Austin Powers soundtracks — and how sad for you if so — the groovy duds and Day-Glo colors now flooding the stage at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre will seem instantly familiar.
That's not to say that The Look of Love, the new homage to Bacharach and David that opened Sunday, is merely an exercise in trendy nostalgia.
Director Scott Ellis, choreographer Ann Reinking, music supervisor David Loud and writer David Thompson, who co-conceived the show, clearly appreciate the enduring sophistication and poignancy of Bacharach's melodies and David's lyrics. It's not for nothing that the pair's songs have been embraced by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and that most famous Bacharach-David interpreter, Dionne Warwick.
But it's worth noting that these vocalists, for all their differences, share a knack for the kind of rhythmic nuances that make pop, jazz and cabaret singing by nature fluid and idiosyncratic. Many of the gifted performers featured in Look, in contrast, appear more comfortable with the more strictly defined style often required by musical theater, which can seem stiff or fussy in the context of a revue.
There are times when this conservative approach works. Jonathan Dokuchitz's straightforward reading of A House Is Not a Home is lovely and moving, as is Liz Callaway's tender, urgent Alfie. But other numbers come across as precious or cloying, because the singers either cling too tightly to convention or show awkwardness in straying from it.
Capathia Jenkins' Walk On By and Janine LaManna's You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) are respectively too tame and too cute by half, while a mannered, faux-jazz version of Do You Know the Way to San Jose, featuring male singers in twisted baseball caps, evokes an overly ambitious boy band.
But there also are moments when pop savvy and theatrical razzle-dazzle meet harmoniously, and most of them owe at least as much to Reinking's perfect pitch as they do to the vocalists or musicians. The alternately wistful and exuberant dance routines accompanying instrumental versions of Wives and Lovers and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head are among the show's peaks, while a naughty reinterpretation of What's New, Pussycat? nods stylishly to Reinking's mentor, Bob Fosse.
Other highlights include a vibrant, girl-group-inspired take on Wishin' and Hopin' that doubles as a showcase for costume designer Martin Pakledinaz's fabulously flirty retrophilia. Derek McLane's sleek sets and Don Sebesky's piquant orchestrations are similarly evocative of the swinging '60s, when Bacharach and David were established as hitmakers.
At its best, though, The Look of Love shows why the duo's appeal would prove timeless.
If anxiety over the economic malaise, or the ongoing unrest in Iraq, or that spooky new virus has you lying awake at night, fear not and forget the pharmaceuticals. A new form of sedative is at hand: It's Broadway's revue of Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs, "The Look of Love." Please note that it should be taken only in small doses. One act is probably more than enough for average adults, and repeat visits could leave you comatose.
It took four talents to conceive this thoroughly misconceived production. None is likely to be featuring it prominently on future resumes. Scott Ellis provided the sluggish direction, Ann Reinking the simultaneously bland and derivative choreography. They were abetted by the unfortunately named music director, David Loud, who dutifully turns even the zestier songs into so much pasteurized cheese; and David Thompson, a book writer who presumably thought up some of the more complicated attempts to find varied theatrical imagery suitable to David's I-love-you-don't-leave-me-I'll-make-it-through lyrics.
There are more additions to the evening's gallery of ignominy. The set by the talented Derek McLane is a drab wall of wire mesh, with platforms and towers of the same material, that suggests the exercise yard at a minimum-security prison. Then there are the costumes by the generally reliable Martin Pakledinaz, a collection of contemporary styles that might have been culled from the sale racks at T.J. Maxx or the casual corner of the Men's Wearhouse, with a few tacky nods to the 1960s tossed in here and there.
This is, in fact, the Roundabout Theater Co.'s second attempt to fashion a workable evening of theater from the songbook of Bacharach and David, whose mellow ballads and jaunty pop ditties about romance and relationships catered to the more middle-of-the-road musical appetites of the 1960s. The first tried to shoehorn the songs into a sketchy story about contemporary singles meeting and mating; it stalled back in 1998 -- when the Bacharach-David revival was somewhat fresher, it should be noted -- at San Diego's Old Globe Theater, a victim of dismal reviews, including one from this critic, then on the West Coast. (Theater trivia-lovers might want to know that it starred, among others, Broadway's thoroughly modern Millie, Sutton Foster.)
The new model scraps any notion of tying songs to specific characters and storylines, instead serving them up relatively straight or in dubious little vignettes. The result is marginally less silly but hardly more entertaining. It wafts along like the theatrical equivalent of Muzak; by the end of the evening you may feel you've been trapped in an elevator for two hours.
The songs were not written to hold a stage, and they don't. As gifted singers like Liz Callaway and Capathia Jenkins emote their way through one lilting ballad after another, the strain to pump up the emotion distorts the gentle allure of Bacharach's delicate melodies and exposes the modest range of feeling in David's elegant lyrics. There's probably a reason these songs' finest interpreters -- Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick, to name two -- were better known as recording artists than live performers. The songs shine brightest in laid-back pop arrangements and smooth, unforced vocal performances ideally served by records: Dusty's intimate whisper or Dionne's distinctively jazzy, clipped delivery. Given the hard sell in lush arrangements, as they too often are here, their charms tend to evaporate, and monotony becomes a problem.
A list of the evening's low points would be easy to compile. Somewhere near the top would have to be the segment in which Kevin Ceballo sings a syrupy version of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" in Spanish while the leggy dancer Shannon Lewis does a writhing solo ballet, often from a prone position. Then there's Reinking's uninspired recycling of the usual Fosse cliches -- the hats, the garters, the chairs, the lewd leg-spreads -- in "What's New Pussycat?," performed by a trio of females in an arrangement that shamelessly apes the Kander & Ebb of "Chicago" and "Cabaret." (Even the chairs are tacky!)
There are a few likable segments. Desmond Richardson and Eugene Fleming perform a fleet and charming urban tap routine to the music of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," which blessedly serves to spare us the song's excruciating lyrics. The singers are all talented, but Callaway and Jenkins turn in some particularly distinguished vocal performances, including a duet on "Promises, Promises."
Janine LaManna is also in fine voice, but her eerie resemblance to Celine Dion tends to remind you that the show's general aesthetic is uncomfortably close to that of a Las Vegas nightclub act. With its emphasis on solo numbers performed on an essentially bare stage, it also suggests "American Idol" for the boomer set. Which, I suppose, makes me Simon Cowell.