When do we stop looking for love in all the wrong places?
In Kenny Solms’ new Off-Broadway comedy, “It Must Be Him,” now in preview at the Peter J. Sharp Theatre, a gay sitcom writer, Louie Wexler (Peter Scolari) faces a midlife crisis when he finds both his career and romantic life in shambles. As disaster looms, Wexler makes a last-ditch effort to save his Beverly Hills home, his love life and his sense of self-esteem. The star-studded cast includes John Tracey Eagan (“The Producers”), Liz Torres (TV’s “The John Larroquette Show,”) Jonathan C. Kaplan (“Falsettos”), David Margulies (“45 Seconds from Broadway”) and Jessica Tyler Wright (“Sweeney Todd”).
Directed by Daniel Kutner, who is Hal Prince’s full-time associate director, “It Must Be Him” takes its title from the Vicki Carr standard, itself based on a French song, “Seul Sur Son Étoile,” by Gilbert Bécaud and Maurice Vidalin. Larry Grossman and Ryan Cunningham wrote special music for the new show.
Solms is a scion of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Philadelphia. His father, David, was a banker and one-time president of the city’s Jewish newspaper, the Philadelphia Exponent. His brother, Stephen, who died suddenly earlier this month, was a real estate developer and Philadelphia 76ers fan who left a lasting imprint on the city’s skyline.
The playwright broke into show business in 1967 with a comedy album, co-written with Gail Parent, about the wedding of First Daughter Luci Baines Johnson to Patrick Nugent. He was then hired, at the age of 21, to write for the “Carol Burnett Show,” for which he ultimately received four Emmy nominations. He went on to craft TV specials for many top stars, including Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, Danny Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Bill Cosby and Neil Diamond. In addition to writing and producing the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” he has also created stage revues based on the music of Frank Loesser, Burt Bacharach, and Sammy Cahn.
But Solms told The Jewish Week that the last few years he has been in a “not-so-hot streak,” explaining that “by the time you hit 55, ageism becomes a big deal and you don’t get as much work.” His play, much of which is told through flashbacks and fantasy scenes, likewise shows what happens when the work dries up.
According to the playwright, his autobiographical stand-in, Wexler, “torpedoes his own creations with his dark side. He tries to be edgy and controversial, but he’s basically just immature.” Only when he realizes that his ideal lover is “someone his own age, rather than an 18-year-old in a tank top,” can he begin to move in a more realistic and fruitful direction.
“It Must Be Him” brings in the “whole coterie of cronies” from his life, Solms said, to tell a coming-of-age tale. While his parents were alive, he said, he was unable to have a “confrontation and opening up” with them about his sexuality. In the play, he finally lets it out. “It’s about growing up, facing your demons straight on.”
“It Must Be Him,” which is now in previews, opens on Sept. 1 and runs through Sept. 26 at the Peter J. Sharp Theatre (416 W. 42nd St.). Performances are every evening except Wednesday, at 7 p.m, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. There is no performance on Labor Day. For tickets, $65, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.ticketcentral.com.