It feels ungrateful to dismiss any new musical that offers Donna Murphy a chance to play a Nazi-oppressed Polish star of the Yiddish theater and an old Jewish grandmother in New York, to be so persuasively comic and tragic, to use so many parts of her marvelous voice in traditional Broadway ballads, operetta, vaudeville and the ancient stirrings in the klezmer music.
So let's not dismiss "The People in the Picture," well, at least not completely. The show, which opened last night as the last official offering of the Broadway season, is a well meaning, well cast, heartfelt sack of cliches about the passing of legacies through generations of mothers and daughters.
There are moments in director Leonard Foglia's good-looking production when the show resonates with echoes of ancestral footsteps and the bonds of blood history. But the shamelessly sentimental book and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart (who wrote the weeper novel "Beaches") presses so many well-worn buttons with such dogged insistence that I found it hard to resist the impulse to swat her grabby hands away from my heart.
Murphy, also memorable four years ago as Lotte Lenya in the short-lived "LoveMusik," flips gracefully between Raisel, irrepressible star of a traveling company called the Warsaw Gang, and her aged self. The old woman, alienated from her divorced daughter (Nicole Parker), finds a devoted friend in her granddaughter (Rachel Resheff), eager, as Artie Butler's waltz goes, to "Remember Who You Are."
Butler and early-rock legend Mike Stoller share composer credits, which also means blame, for the mixed-bag of derivative and effective songs. Enormous picture frames define Riccardo Hernandez' inventively functional set.
Despite the terrible jokes, tragicomic pros Chip Zien, Lewis J. Stadlen and Joyce Van Patten are lovely as the actors Raisel conjures in flashbacks. Equally admirable are Alexander Gemignani as her gay cantor-turned-actor husband and Christopher Innvar as the director who impregnates her before escaping to Hollywood.
So, naturally, there is a secret in a family picture, which, alas, is not the same as suspense.
WHAT "The People in the Picture"
WHERE Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.
INFO $37-$122; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org
BOTTOM LINE Murphy's an original, the show's a sentimental sack of cliches.