“She is real!” Einstein insists to his pal, Besso (Brennan Caldwell), a fellow physicist and patent clerk. “Josette exists somewhere, I feel it. If only I understood time and space better, I could be with her.”
Spoiler, sort of: Josette is meant to be the embodiment of time, guiding Einstein to his discovery through dreams populated, “The Wizard of Oz”-style, with versions of figures from his waking life — a chorus that crowds onto the handsome, two-level set (by Isabel Mengyuan Le) to perform elementary, gesture-driven choreography. (The movement director is Dax Valdes.)
It is easy to see why the novel would be tempting material for the stage. Each dream is a vision of a world with its own concept of time (finite, infinite, looping, interrupted, inverted), which means it operates by its own discrete set of rules. That’s the kind of limitation in which imagination can flourish.
But what makes the book charming, as well as enticing both intellectually and emotionally, is missing from this stage version: spellbinding tone, nimble curiosity and gauzy dreaminess; a flair for mood and metaphor. There is no sense, in the musical, of a sure artistic voice. Its dialogue is lamentably awkward, its lyrics oversimple, while its songs are pleasant without being distinctive.
There is a lively number called “The Relativity Rag,” and several others are in the style of Stephen Sondheim. (The six-piece band, conducted by Milton Granger, does sound great.) The score’s high point, the very pretty “I Will Never Let You Go,” is sung by a mother (Tess Primack) who yearns to freeze time to keep her daughter close. Its clarity and meditativeness are all too rare in this show.