NEW YORK (AP) — In her new theatrical comedy "Cougar the Musical," Donna Moore lifts the veil to reveal a rarely seen world of predators hunting in their natural habitat.
And no, this isn't a show about mountain lions.
New York City is the wilderness in Moore's expose, which takes a farcical look at the intertwining lives of three mature, single women and their spiritual awakenings while pursuing, or being pursued by, greener members of the opposite sex.
"Cougar" is not without significant shortcomings, including a number of songs that suffer noticeably from melodic doldrums, a steady stream of witless sexual innuendo and an inexplicably drab set.
But despite the nagging inadequacies, this understated production proves surprisingly charming with elegant flow from start to finish under the sure-handed direction of Lynne Taylor-Corbett (a Tony Award nominee in 2000 for direction and choreography in "Swing!").
Taylor-Corbett also provides choreography on some modest, but creative, dance numbers and efficiently utilizes the small stage at St. Luke's Theatre, where this week the show began an open-ended run.
The capable four-person cast is led by the charismatic Catherine Porter as Lily, a 40-something divorcee struggling to overcome a confidence crisis and the emotional wounds left by her failed marriage.
Porter ("Next to Normal" on Broadway) displays an irresistibly likable disposition and a lovely voice on "Let's Talk About Me" — a traditionally jazzy show tune with cute, clever lyrics — making it one the most memorable scenes in the one-act musical, which runs about 90 minutes.
Complementing Lily is the always-entertaining Brenda Braxton in the role of Clarity, a hard-driven, razor-sharp professional as opinionated and as she is unapologetic.
Braxton's voluminous Broadway credits include a 1995 Tony-nominated performance in "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and a successful run in "Chicago" as Velma opposite Usher's Billy Flynn. Her smooth style is a delight to see and hear, particularly on the reggae-infused "I'm My Own Queen" and the playful Latin romp "Julio."
The trio of divas is rounded out with the comic relief and Southern twang of Babs Winn as Mary-Marie, a serial online dater and proprietor of Cougar Bar, home of the "Cougartini."
Danny Bernardy is the sole male cast member, bringing impressive energy and humor to several roles, including Buck the barback, Eve the beautician and a variety of "boy toys."
Moore collaborated on the music and lyrics for nearly every song, sharing credit with no less than five additional songwriters, which might explain why the score is somewhat varied and uneven.
Still, her little show has a lot going for it and seems well-suited to a small theater. Musical accompaniment is limited to two pieces — an upright piano (Jana Zielonka) and percussion (Sean Dolan) — giving the program the earthy, organic feel of a jazz club or music school audition.
The women in "Cougar" do their best to hold true to a few important tenets while hunting their prey: keep expectations in check, don't be afraid to enjoy a little good, cheap fun and don't read too much into it.
It's advice their audiences would do well to keep in mind, as theatergoers hunting for something more meaningful will likely come away "Cougar" feeling unfulfilled.