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Weirdness can't excuse outlandish 'In My Life'

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NEW YORK -- It can happen at funerals. You're sitting in a large room surrounded by silent, slightly dazed people, mostly strangers, when you're overcome by the urge to laugh, though you suspect it would be highly inappropriate.

In My Life (* 1/2 out of four), the well-intended but aggressively weird musical that opened Thursday at Broadway's Music Box Theatre, offers a number of such moments. Granted, Life, the brainchild of jingles writer and self-styled Hollywood maverick Joe Brooks, who wrote the music, lyrics and libretto in addition to directing and producing, has plenty of intentionally comic, even wacky elements. Sadly, the camp isn't nearly as funny as the pathos.

The story involves J.T., a young musician, and Jenny, who edits personal ads for the Village Voice. J.T. has Tourette's syndrome, which causes him to blurt out nonsensical and occasionally profane rhymes. (His first three words of dialogue include "duck" and "suck.") Jenny has diagnosed herself with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but her pathology more closely evokes a type of single woman who identifies every potential beau as her "soul mate."

Luckily, Jenny's annoying neediness doesn't put J.T. off any more than his head tics disturb her. But disaster looms in the form of a cross-dressing accountant named Winston. Winston is also an angel, sort of, but that makes him more threatening, because heavenly forces have empowered him to cast J.T. and Jenny in a "reality opera."

Are you still with me? Good, because there's more, including a dead little girl and other angels who saunter about in high-heeled boots and platinum-blonde wigs, looking a bit like Lil' Kim. A skeleton dances with Winston, whom David Turner plays as a cross between Tim Curry's Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Alan Cumming's Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, but without the menace of the latter or the wit of either.

Other actors go through their paces gamely -- sometimes too gamely, as in the case of Chiara Navarra, who as the dead girl bellows every song like an overeager American Idol contestant and mugs excessively. But Brooks, best known for writing, directing and scoring the soapy film You Light Up My Life, offers them little more than an opportunity to induce squirms, yawns and suppressed giggles.

You may feel guilty chuckling when J.T. confronts life-threatening surgery. Brooks' ham-fisted lines defy sensitivity, though. "Here in this room there's so much pain," an observer sings in the operating room. What, no anesthesia?

You can avoid similar discomfort simply by not seeing In My Life. But you'd be missing one of the most bizarre experiences in memory.

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