Boy meets girl. Boy and girl form rock band. Boy and girl break up. It’s an old story, but in “Rooms: A Rock Romance,” it gets a new twist. This musical from Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon is set in Glasgow, and it kicks off with aspiring singer-songwriter Monica, “1977 Young Glasgow Jewish Entertainer of the Year,” paying guitarist Ian 25 pounds to write a song with her and perform it at a bat mitzvah. The concept doesn’t quite get fleshed out over the ensuing hour and a half, but in the production from Bad Habit that’s now up at the Boston Center for the Arts, Ashley Korolewski and Michael Levesque do their best to make it watchable.
There’s also an autobiographical twist to “Rooms”: Goodman was born in Glasgow, and he and Gordon — who’s from Detroit, the daughter of Holocaust survivors — are married. And yet their musical is long on formula and short on detail. Although he’s been accepted at a number of Scottish universities, reclusive Ian prefers to stay home in his room, where he has his records, his amp, his lava lamp (it’s 1978), and his guitar (“She never lets me down”). He also has his bottle; when Monica first shows up at his door, at 11:30 in the morning, he offers her a cocktail. She, on the other hand, has the Monica P. Miller Master Plan: She’ll play Wembley Stadium and then Madison Square Garden, she’ll appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, and when the queen invites her to tea, she’ll answer, “Sorry, Lizzie, I’m busy.” Performing as the punk-rock duo the Diabolicals, Ian and Monica actually do make it to London (if not Wembley) and New York (CBGB) before her ambition and his alcoholism threaten to tear them apart.
“Rooms” is really more pop than rock, and it doesn’t want for cute moments. After listening to the song Ian’s written for the bat mitzvah, Monica tells him, “It’s a winner, do you want to stay for dinner?”, after which he concludes, “The kosher wine was surprisingly fine.” At the ceremony itself, Monica sings, “There’s a lot more gefilte fish left in the sea,” giving away details about the birthday girl’s not-so-innocent past and prompting her mother to cancel Monica’s gig at Let My People Go-Go.
What’s missing from this “rock romance” is the romance. “Rooms” is mostly sung, and 90 minutes isn’t enough time for Ian and Monica’s personal relationship to develop. The resolution, moreover, is sentimental and predictable, after Ian faces up to his drinking problem and Monica deals with an unplanned pregnancy.
Bad Habit has converted a part of the Virginia Wimberly Theatre into a rectangular playing space, with the audience on three sides and the five-piece band at the rear. Goodman’s songs are pleasant but unremarkable, and his lyrics, when not funny, can be banal. I do wish I had heard more of them; the passable singing voices of Korolewski and Levesque tend to disappear into the band. Emily McCourt’s set is what looks like a steamer trunk on rollers; it does double duty as a seat and, when opened, as a source for onstage costume changes.
I liked the awkward way Levesque puts his hands in his pockets and shuffles and looks away when he’s uncomfortable. And the seductive way Korolewski, when Monica sees something she likes in Ian, models her brown “Friday Night Dress” for him. Together they make a sweet couple. But working under Bad Habit artistic director Daniel Morris, they aren’t able to take Ian and Monica beyond stereotype. What “Rooms” needs is room for its characters to grow.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.