It was going to be the hot new show of the season: a sexy, sleek and edgy stage adaptation of a concept album (which are hot again thanks to Hadestown) by a pop-rock composer who writes for superstars (Maroon 5, Pink, Selena Gomez, One Direction, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj among them), with a cast and creative team full of Hamilton alumni. Surely, it would receive raves during its Off-Broadway debut and transfer to Broadway before the April Tony Awards deadline.
Well, not everything turns out as planned.
39-year-old Ross Golan has been working on The Wrong Man (unrelated to the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock thriller with Henry Fonda) for more than a decade – which actually is not so unbelievable when you consider how hard it can be for an original new musical to get produced nowadays. In 2014, Golan put on a one-man version of the show in Los Angeles. And now The Wrong Man seems to be everywhere at once. In August, the concept album (with singing by Golan) was released by Interscope Records. A few months before that, an animated film version of the recording debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The stage version is being produced Off-Broadway by MCC Theater (which has a less than stellar track record when it comes to new musicals, including most recently Alice by Heart). Golan has been replaced by Tony nominee Joshua Henry (Carousel, Hamilton, The Scottsboro Boys), along with Ciara Renee (Pippin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and Ryan Vasquez (who has a supporting role and also alternates for Henry in the lead role at select performances). Directing is Thomas Kail (Hamilton), with orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton) and choreography by Travis Wall (So You Think You Can Dance).
Running approximately 90 minutes, The Wrong Man (which is sung through, with the book credited to Golan) makes for a pretty slim noir saga. Framed as a flashback, Duran (Henry) is your average nice guy who lives in Reno, Nevada, has a boring office job, gets discarded by the opposite sex and generally can’t seem to catch a break. One night, he finds unexpected romance with the mysterious femme fatale Mariana (Renee). Duran then learns that not only did he get Mariana pregnant, but she also has a psychotic former husband (Velasquez), who proceeds to murder Mariana, frame Duran for the deed and disappear. After trying to run and hide, Duran is quickly found guilty by a jury and sent to Death Row. A downbeat ending for a decidedly downbeat show.
Golan may have achieved super-platinum status in the music industry, but The Wrong Man demonstrates little understanding of the fundamentals of musical theater songwriting, such as character and plot development, melody and rhyming lyrics. There are some catchy chords and phrases, plus a standout, upbeat Latin-number for the villain, but The Wrong Man proves to be pretty meager on the whole. For the record, I did listen to the album, which is generally more satisfying since it operates on such a simpler level as a choppy song cycle performed by a single guy, not unlike a confessional, stream-of-consciousness monologue.
The impulse behind the show’s creative team appears to have been to mask the show’s skeletal foundations as much as possible, relying upon stylized, hyperkinetic dance choreography, an intimate, arena-style set design (with onstage bleachers for select audience members, an onstage band, neon streaks of light and a continuously onstage cast), a smooth sound design, and Henry, who sings the vast majority of the score on his own and gives an all-out performance that grows in physical intensity.