Belonging to a comp-ticket club, you have to know how to divvy up the potentially good from the likely awful. So today when I noticed a new show pop up on the queue and I hadn't heard of it, I relied on the see-we-told-you-so reputation of Atlantic Theater Co. as a good bellwether, and I wasn't disappointed. The company that spawned Spring Awakening, now nominated like crazy for Tonys on Broadway, is doing another musical, this time featuring songs by Patty Griffin. Now, I'd been familiar with her genre of music, but didn't know enough of her songs to figure out whether they were all new (a la Duncan Sheik and Spring) or just chosen from her catalog. And even though it turned out to be the latter, I thought the show managed to avoid feeling like a bland jukebox musical. Perhaps because Griffin's songs are pretty heartfelt and amazing and not over the top or cliche. True, there are a few bits of the plot that I now realize were wedged in to match the lyrics of different songs, but overall, it felt pretty organic.
The four-performer cast is split between a young-ish couple and an older man and woman who play rotating male and female roles of people the couple meet or see along a road trip up the East Coast. Both Matt Morrison (The Light in the Piazza), with his military buzz cut, and Irene Molloy are decent singers - although Matt's the superior actor. But the real core of the show rests in Mare Winningham (Susan Grey on "Grey's Anatomy"), who not only navigates several different personas - from waitress to drunk divorcee to late-shift mother to old cat lady - but channels Griffin the best. Her renditions of "Kite" and "Making Pies" are especially heartbreaking. I really think this show has potential, and hope it gets a good reception. It's open in the neat former church building on West 20th Street through July 1.