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The 2008 New York Musical Theatre Festival
That Other Woman's Child | The Jerusalem Syndrome | She Can't Believe She Said That! | Jason & Ben |Villa Diodati: A Mary Shelley Phantasia | The Hatpinl |College: The Musical |Twilight in Manchego | Idaho | Castronauts |Love Jerry | About Face| Max & the Truffle Pig | Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale | Bedbugs |
That Other Woman's Child
The phrase "That Other Woman’s Child" is uttered more often than I would have thought possible in the new musical of the same name. It’s just one of quirky element; others include a cast of characters all named after books of the Bible (like Song of Solomon and Leviticus), and a real hellfire-and-brimstone speech in the middle of the first act.
This is one of the largest and most intricate productions I’ve ever seen at NYMF but despite a cast of 25 and a series of enjoyable clog and tap dance numbers, at this point That Other Woman’s Child is not especially watchable, mainly because of the flawed book, by George Clinton (who's also the song writer) and director/co-creator Sherry Landrum.
To set the scene: Dawn, (Mary Mossberg) the cosmopolitan daughter of the family’s deadbeat patriarch, comes to visit her Kentucky redneck family for the first time. Things go awry when they turn out to be a farm full of embittered relatives who think she’s out to take their farm away. She persists,and eventually ends up sparking something of a modern revolution among the backwoods clan. The inanity of this story line is made even more apparent by trite dialogue and hard-to-believe plot twists. (There’s only so many hillbilly jokes a show can take.)
As for the cast, the best performance comes from Warren Kelley as the likeable family handyman, and Dave Schoonover has fun with the villainous Leviticus.
Clinton's bluegrass songs do enliven the show. The fact that the lyrics are mostly generic and obvious isn't all that bothersome since these characters aren’t exactly sophisticated The bluegrass sound fits in wonderfully with the show's spirit and is well played by a six-piece band featuring guitar, fiddle, mandolin, washboard, and saw. The numbers are complimented nicely by Mark Knowles’s choreography is another plus and fortunately many tof the songs turn into big ensemble dance numbers. Perhaps with an outside director and dramaturg to speeed up the pace and streamline the story, this show could be shaped into something deserving of its raucous score.
That Other Woman’s Child runs through Oct. 5 at 37 Arts Theatre C. Sep 29th at 8:00 pm, Sep 30th at 1:00 pm, Oct 1 at 5:00 pm, Oct 3rd at 9:00 pm, Oct 4th at 5:00 pm, Oct 5th at 1:00 pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay.
The Jerusalem Syndrome
The Jerusalem Syndrome is a little known and less understood mental condition in which people visiting the Holy City come to believe they are God, the Messiah or a Biblical character from the Old or New Testament. Often affected individuals can be found wandering around Jerusalem, dressed in a bed sheet while they try to find their biblical partners, raise the dead or lead their people to the Promised Land.
Can this make for musical comedy? You bet!
Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman have written a truly funny play named after and based on this disease. What’s more, they have brilliantly integrated the personality of the victims with their individual delusion. Thus Eddie (Nick Verina), the inept tour guide, becomes Moses, decides Dr. Ben Zion (Bruce Sabath) of Hadassah Hospital is the Pharaoh and attempts to lead his fellow patients out of bondage. Charles (Alan H. Green), a gay man who has inherited land next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where he intends to build a resort for gay people, reconnects with his roots as a choir boy, decides he is Jesus and starts curing the sick and making peace on earth. And Phyllis (Liz Larsen), a middle-aged, childless woman whose husband, Alan (Stuart Zagnit), is more interested in his cell phone than his wife, becomes Sarah and with her husband, Abraham, in real life the actor Mickey Rose (Austin Miller) tries to find her way back to Hebron.
Strangely, the musical is at times quite moving. Eddie realizes his true calling as Moses. Alan, after almost losing his wife to "Abraham," comes to understand she should be his top priority. Charles is a much better person when he believes he is Jesus. Throw in an exhilarating score by Kyle Rosen and Annette Jolles’ sure-footed direction, and one can easily see the genesis of a new hit. Next year on or off Broadway!
at 37 Arts Theater C. Sep 23rd at 8:00 pm, Sep 24th at 1:00 pm, Sep 26th at 9:00 pm, , Sep 27th at 1:00 pm, Oct 2nd at 9:00 pm, Oct 5th at 5:00 pm. Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 2, 2008.
She Can't Believe She Said That!
Kathie Lee Gifford has become something of a peripheral character in pop culture these days, but for years she was one of the more polarizing figures in the media. She Can’t Believe She Said That! chronicles her transformation from teenage Christian singer Kathryn Epstein to vapid talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford. The show is part spoof, part biography, part social commentary, from South Park writer Matt Prager who is responsible for the book, music and lyrics.
First, the bad news: Prager’s work is fairly uneven. The score contains some definite clunkers as well as several real comic highlights ("I’m Christianer than you," Kathryn sings). The first act, which focuses on Kathryn’s Christian music career and first marriage,is dull compared to the hilarious second act when we finally get to see the good stuff which covers Kathie Lee’s second marriage (to Frank Gifford), her partnership with Regis Philbin, and her eventual media humiliations including a sweatshop scandal and Frank’s secret affair.
the good news is that you’re in for a treat with leading lady Heather Laws, who gives a terrific comic performance as Kathie Lee. Laws’s comic timing is outstanding, and her cheerful self-absorption and bawdy laugh sell Prager’s jokes and chats with God beautifully. I was reminded of Amy Poehler’s imitation of Hilary Clinton on Saturday Night Live, the gold standard of caricatures who are also characters in their own right. The rest of the cast is equally strong, particularly Rob Sheridan as the very charming Frank Gifford, and Charles Karel as Regis. Karel’s banter with Laws is far funnier than the real Regis and Kathie Lee were.
Director Josh Hecht has staged the musical in cartoonish fashion with lots of over-the-top supporting characters and decidedly unrealistic scenic design (by Robin Vest). One odd decision was the switch from cardboard scenery in the first act to flat-screen television backdrops in the second. This intensified the the divide between the slow first act and the lightning-paced second act. Hecht is successful, however, in bringing Prager’s themes to the forefront throughout, and giving weight to his commentaries on media and celebrity. The elements of a strong comic musical are all so one hopes that the show's kinks can be ironed out.
She Can’t Believe She Said That! runs through Oct. 3 at TBG. Sep 26th at 8:00 pm, Sep 27th at 1:00 pm, Sep 29th at 8:00 pm, Oct 1st at 4:30 pm, Oct 4th at 4:30 pm, Oct 5th at 1:00 pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay.
Jason & Ben
In Jason & Ben, playwright/composer/lyricist Matthew Loren Cohen gives it to us (so to speak) straight: a pared-down, book-heavy musical about a chance encounter between two gay men in New York that turns romantic, psychologically manipulative and violent unfolds in immediate, claustrophobic real time. The book, though not yet as tight as it could be (some of it doesn't zing quite the way it should, especially Jason's dialogue, which can be a little generic), sticks to things people actually say and the way they actually say them, and when the characters sing, they acknowledge that they're singing (most of the time). The show shines when it strives to be a subtle, character-driven drama that happens to come with a score, but falters when it strays from its initial ambitious realism towards conventional musical form.
A fine, restrained performance from Will Taylor as Ben centers the show. He offers an understated vulnerability that's very affecting. Zach Fischer (Jason) struggles with his more ill-defined character. He finds the neediness, but not the independent drive of Jason's manipulations. The character is written as so reactive to Ben that he remains a cipher. This gambit is surely at least partially intentional, but works to undermine Jason's ability to command the audience's empathy (a problem when we are asked to care about him as a character, especially when he sings alone). I wanted him to be a little more solid, a little more menacing, and a lot more developed as a character in his own right. Despite these obstacles, Cohen adeptly rachets the suspense— and the emotional stakes—up and down without stretching credibility too far.
Cohen's songs are both enjoyable and memorable when they work (mostly at the beginning and the end of the show). He imagines the musical as a play with music and provides sweet-tempered indie pop-rock that does heavy lifting in the character development and mood creation departments, finding a subtlety that most musicals never even attempt. Between the intriguing beginning and compelling conclusion of the libretto, though, Cohen serves up four straight misses: "No One Caring," "You'll Be Back," "JBG" (an inoffensive but utterly digressive Jake Gyllenhaal paean that interrupts a scene while it's working nicely, features awkward Latinate syntax, and should be cut in future productions), and "Out of Place" fail at least partially because they are attempts at a more traditional Broadway musical model in which the songs tell the audience what the characters want and/or advance the plot. They are consequently less self-contained and more lacking in structure and clash with the opacity and interpersonal unease of the book and other songs. Because both the characters are musicians, Cohen's first instinct about the music— that it can serve as yet another elliptical way in which people communicate, rather than a chance to suspend his characters' reality and let them talk directly and guilelessly to the audience—is the right one for the show.
It's exciting to see the way Jason & Ben sometimes revises the traditional role of the song in a musical, thus offering the viewer an enticing taste of a new kind of musical. The show's compelling core makes me hope that this isn't the final draft.
Jason and Ben runs through October 5th at the 45th Street Theater: Sep 24th at 8:00 pm, Sep 26th at 8:00 pm, Sep 27th at 8:00 pm, Sep 28th at 4:30 pm, Oct 4th at 1:00 pm, and Oct 5th at 4:30 pm. Reviewed by Mollie Eisenberg.
Villa Diodati: A Mary Shelley Phantasia
In Villa Diodati: A Mary Shelley Phantasia a contemporary couple chased by the specter of imminent death visits the Villa Diodati, where an evening of telling ghost stories includes Mary Shelley's canonical novel Frankenstein. The couple is only a framing device (one defects to play Byron while the other haunts the stage and takes a turn as Mary Shelley's dead mother), which is quite suitable for the subject matter (Frankenstein brackets its well-known story of the titular scientist and his creature with several such devices). It serves to blur past and present in an enjoyably eerie way.
Despite the framing device and the discussion of Shelley's intellectual inheritance from her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", this formal complexity does not seem to engender a complex portrait of Mary Shelley herself. The show treats her writing as a sort of emotional crutch to take the edge off her grief at the loss of her daughter, never portraying her as a serious intellectual and artistic figure in the manner of her husband and Byron —though she was, and they treated her as such. Far from being a marginalized female author who has only recently been rediscovered, Shelley was a highly-regarded writer and thinker in her own time —a fact that one would never guess from this portrayal of her as a sister, a mother, and a wife, but never a creator. Villa Diodati takes a worthwhile stab, though, at exploring the issues of motherhood that thematically permeate Frankenstein, though the extended dream sequence in which it does so, resurrecting Wollstonecraft in the process, runs off the rails into confusion.
It's Colette Inez's clunky, expository lyrics that are this musical's main flaw. Inez, a poet, has either failed to grasp or consciously resisted the idea of scansion. The awkward rhythms of her lyrics defy the score, and most of the songs sound like recitatives. When Mira J. Spektor's melodic arrangements of Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth poems take the stage, things pick up a little onstage, but Inez's leaden rhythms and broad telling-not-showing ("Death, death, death stalks my daughter/But a passion for writing/keeps her death at bay," or, "Mary, let us flee England, take Claire, your half/sister, and my wife, Harriet, if she will agree/to non-exclusive love with me") soon return to bring it down again. The failure of the lyrics to find any internal rhythm is pretty nearly unforgivable in a piece populated by so many poets.
Villa Diodati succeeds in being effectively and artistically creepy, in creating a cleverly constructed set of parallels to Frankenstein that tie its characters and creators to the present; also in offering us the chance to spend time with several fascinating characters (Byron, especially, is skillfully rendered by Mark Campbell). Ultimately, though, this show doesn't add much value to its source material.
Villa Diodati: A Mary Shelley Phantasia runs through October 4th at the 45th Street Theater: Sep 22nd at 8:00 pm, Sep 23rd at 1:00 pm, Sep 27th at 4:30 pm, Oct 1st at 8:00 pm, Friday, Oct 3rd at 4:30 pm, Oct 4th at 8:00 pm. Reviewed by Mollie Eisenberg
The Hatpin comes to the New York Musical Theater Festival from a celebrated run in Sydney, where it struck a chord partially because it dramatizes an episode from Australia's true-crime annals: young unmarried mother Amber Murray entrusted her baby boy into the care of an elderly couple, the Makins, who killed him and the babies of other young women, all the while collecting money from the desperate mothers for their children's care.
A couple of songs demonstrate the potential offered by the show's style and material: In "Knock Knock Knock," composer Peter Rutherford and lyricist James Millar use a solid female ensemble to remarkable effect as the peers whose help Murray solicits unsuccessfully— the shifting, sliding harmonies are thoroughly creepy and evoke the shaky footing on which a young unmarried girl finds herself when she finds herself "in trouble." The inventive songwriting justifies the somewhat overwrought opener, "Twisted Little Town," which introduces the setting in grand gothic-melodrama style. "Knock Knock Knock," though, is something more (gothic realism, perhaps?) and hints at the full breadth of the talents of the show's creators. Unfortunately, not every song is so successful and the bare-bones orchestrations and often fail to cohere into memorable numbers.
Some strong performances help to bring emotional heft to the show: Caroline O'Connor, despite a little more mugging than strictly necessary, plays a classic curmudgeon to poignant effect. Paul Kandel is genuinely disquieting as kindly crippled murderer Charles Makin. Gemma-Ashley Kaplan, who gets limited stage time in the first act, puts the show in her pocket and slinks off with it in the second. Her powerhouse voice and intensely physical characterization of the Makins' fierce, needy, disturbed daughter Clara is creepy and compelling.
Kaplan's performance helps to deflect the problems of the second act which, because it hews closely to the narrative of events following the Makins' arrests, sacrifices the thematic expressiveness that is the chief virtue of the first act. Even Amber Murray herself is somewhat buried, and her story is resolved in a highly unsatisfactory parting from her surrogate mother and a projected postscript, which hustles her off-stage without making sense of her experience. A nice sense of parallel (Clara and her murderous mother on one side of the stage, Murray and her kindly friend on the other) in "Something Like Being a Mother" presents an idea about the many configurations of family, but it gets lost in the crowd of events that fill the second act, and one leaves with the sense that The Hatpin doesn't quite know what it's trying to say.
The Hatpin runs through September 24th at the American Theatre of Actors (Chernuchin): Sep 15th at 8:00 pm, Sep 17th at 8:00 pm, Sep 20th at 4:30 pm, Sep 20th at 9:00 pm, Sep 21st at 1:00 pm, Sep 24th at 8:00 pm. Reviewed by Mollie Eisenberg.
College: The Musical
College is certainly a ripe subject for musical theatre treatment, what with all the newfound freedoms and first experiences kids go through upon arrival. And sure enough, there are a number of cute songs in College: The Musical. Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen, have written such songs as "Alcoholeluia," which salutes the glories of underage drinking, and "Generation Meh," which reveals the younger generation’s apathy toward just about everything. Unfortunately, the book and characters aren’t quite so well constructed. The stock characters and obvious plot tricks derail the show and make it something of a chore to sit through.
The show is really just a series of parties and hookups at a dorm; that take place over the course of a day and a half at a typical college. You’ve got a fresh-faced freshman, a nerd, a jock, a party animal, a brainless slut, an overcaffeinated overachiever — you name it. There’s also a contrived romance between two students (Michael Jennings Mahoney and Marie-France Arcilla), who are kept apart by even more ridiculous means. For a show capable of such bright and clever musical satire, it’s a very disappointing book. The cast sells its best aspects well, however. The big comic numbers really do win the audience over, thanks to their unflagging energy.
Director Jeremy Dobrish has staged the action with a bright, sure hand and a nice use of the space. College can also be commended for its wonderful program which gives us each actor’s bio as though it were a Facebook page. It isn’t very often that a program jumps out at you, but this one does. Too bad that the show itself doesn’t reveal much about what college is really like. The absence of genuine emotions would be fine if this wer e just a series of gags, but there is a definite attempt to dig deeper which Fornarola and Elmegreen just don’t manage to bring off.
College the Musical runs through Oct. 3 at the ATA - Chernuchin. Sept. 18 at 8pm, Sept. 19 at 10:30pm, Sept. 20 at 1pm, Sept. 26 at 10:30pm, Sept. 27 at 1pm, Sept. 28 at 9pm, Oct. 3 at 10:30pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay.
Twilight in Manchego
This is an ambitious, intricate and moving musical. However, it might also be described as .unfinished, manipulative and meandering. The fact that it's a show that’s full of problems as well as promise makes it exactly the sort of piece that typifies the shows that are the festival's mission to foster.
Manchego is a provincial town, and Twilight in Manchego focuses on the school at its heart. During the first half of the show we are treated to a typical day’s ups and downs in the school: several fourth-grade teachers showcase their classroom styles, compete for a teacher of the year award, argue about computers, and so on. Then tragedy strikes and sends the characters reeling. The second half of the show gives voice to their shock and grief as they try to come to terms with the loss of one of the students.
It’s an odd structure for a show, and it doesn’t allow for a traditional climax or even a real conflict. Its drama is within each character: eight fourth grade students, stressed mom Jo (Jessica Phillips), principal Biran Teeter (Chuck Cooper), and three teachers (Adam Halpin, Natalie Venetia Belcon and Leslie Alexander).
Author Matt Gould (book, music and lyrics) has created a complex, attractive set of melodies with textured lyrics. He is most successful during the play’s first half, as he illustrates the small-town slice of life and the everyday cares of the teachers and students. The melodies as well as lyrics are allowed to wander off to all sorts of intriguing places and the characters are involving, likable people. As the songs turn into vague anthems and overwrought ballads during the second half, they become more traditional and correspondingly less interesting. A child’s death is such a horrifying subject that generic sentiments like "We’re alive/We’re not alone" sound particularly trite. I applaud Gould for approaching such a difficult, delicate topic, but the execution isn’t quite there.
Director Billy Porter has staged the show beautifully, with a strong sense of space and theatricality. A series of blackboards and chairs are more or less the only sets, which are very evocative indeed. The cast is also strong. I was particularly moved by Jenna Coker-Jones and Lucas Steele as two of the students and Halpin as the teacher who inadvertently causes the tragedy.
There are many remarkable moments floating around in Twilight in Manchego, but I wonder if they can be corralled and structured into a workable piece of drama. For now, this new musical is more interesting for its possibility than its realization.
Twilight in Manchego Oct. 4 at the ATA - Chernuchin. Sept. 25 at 8pm, Sept. 26 at 7pm, Sept. 27 at 9pm, Sept. 29 at 8pm, Oct. 1 at 8pm, Oct. 4 at 1pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay.
Call it Oklahoma! transplanted to a new state, and given a bawdier tone. Buddy Sheffield and Keith Thompson’s new comedy musical, > is essentially a homage to the 1943 milestone, with meta-theatrical flourishes. The production has a decent score (Buddy Sheffield and Keith Thompson) with 23 songs (Sheffield also pens the frisky lyrics) and might be aptly called a folk operetta. Yes, there’s dialogue in the show, but it’s the musical numbers that keep the narrative moseying along in true Midwestern fashion.
While broadly tracing the Oklahoma! narrative backbone, Idaho's story adds its own distinct idiom and fresh details. The plot revolves around a mail order bride called Cassie (the dewy-fresh Elena Shaddow), who arrives in a prairie town in Idaho and falls in love with the wrong man (Rob Sutton). As her impending marriage to Jed Strunk (Bill Nolte) approaches, the bride grows more desperate. Jed‘s crude behavior and bullying ways frighten her, and the idea of marrying him is more than she can emotionally bear. In between the scenes where Cassie is running away from Jed’s amorous advances, the town folk (a motley crew of 18) all have a chance to ponder her difficult situation, and to weigh the value of true love against the law.
The leitmotif of the evening is potatoes--crinkle-cut, curly, country fried, and even julienned. The potatoes (affectionately nicknamed "taters" and "spuds") are grown, cooked, savored and become the common denominator of those living in Idaho. What gives the homely vegetable even more texture is that it acts as a catalyst for the romantic rebellion of Cassie. Without revealing all the details of her quiet revolt, one will discover in a telling scene with Aunt Pearlie (Jennifer Perry) that Cassie is extremely resourceful, and that her supposed allergy to the potato will clearly work to her advantage, and trigger a romantic turnabout.
Like its forbear, Idaho! takes a sentimental look at a bygone America. With its tongue planted firmly in cheek, it has a mock seriousness that soundly rejects sophistication and worldliness in favor of the land and everything that can possibly spring forth from its soil.
There’s a lot of ballyhoo-ing about the physical beauty of Idaho in the late 1800s and the merits of country life, themes that are smartly interwoven into the song and dance numbers. We’re treated to a spud-lovin’ anthem in the title song "Idaho!" and later regaled by the mockingly romantic "In a Cabin on a Hill." There's a wonderful reworking of the Oklahoma! dream ballet/ Even though it’s staged as a self-conscious parody of the original, it’s astonishing how seamlessly Agnes De Mille’s ballet grafts itself to the new musical. A few of the song like "Tater Wagon" are a bit raunchy, but the majority exude an affecting simplicity. Granted, this musical is a derivative piece, and nothing we see or hear is as arresting as the artistry found in the show that inspired it Oklahoma!. But why ask for the glorious past, when the present gives us something to smile about?
Under the direction of Matt Lenz, the production achieves intensity and folksy casualness at the same time. With more time, and some pruning of fustian plot nonsense, this show might have a future.
Idaho! runs through Oct. 4 at 37 Arts - Theater C. Sept. 25 at 8pm, Sept. 26 at 5pm, Sept. 28 at 5 pm, Sept. 28 at 9 pm, Sept. 30 at 9pm, and Oct. 4 at 9pm. Plus added performance on Oct 1 at 1pm. Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan.
Castronauts is about a spicy family of outcasts in Cuba. It has a vibrant Latin sound and a golden-voiced cast. Unfortunately, the book is such a mess that the score is all it has going for it . One hopes it can be reworked into something a little more coherent after the Festival.
Bobby Houston and Patricio Bisson, the book writers, have concocted a plot about a middle-aged drag queen named Lolita (Hechter Ubarry) who meets and romances Fidel Castro. When disaster strikes, she and her family decide to move to Miami, an adventure which takes up much of the second act. The family, a ragtag group of rebels, includes a young hunk (Guto Bittencourt), a vain drag queen dancer (Terry Lavell), a sarcastic grandmother (April Ortiz), a dancer who’s seen better days (Nancy Ticotin), and so on. The characters have some originality and introduce a lot of dramatic possibilities, but none are realized. Lame jokes abound (lots of one-liners about drag queens, fat girls, and dumb Cubans),and the plot unfolds at a meandering pace.
But there IS the score to brighten up the evening. Composer Randy Courts and lyricist Houston have written some fine songs, and the best numbers (ike "Kingpin" and "I Only Can Be Me" have a sizzling sound which is voiced beautifully by the cast (especially Lavell and Ticotin). Additionally, director/choreographer Will Pomerantz has created some strong dance moveswhich nearly makes up for the plodding pace of the story.
While I can't recommend the show, there’s enough promise here to make me want to see a revamped version.
Castronauts runs through Sept. 27 at the Zipper Factory. Sept. 16 at 8pm, Sept. 18 at 10pm, Sept. 19 at 6:30 pm, Sept. 21 at 9:30pm, Sept. 24 at 9:30pm, Sept. 28 at 9pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay.
Love Jerry is a grown-up look at a most delicate subject: pedophilia. Dangerous territory for a musical. But this is an atypical show, a piece that’s fully capable of dealing with its subject matter so that we’re treated to a show that’s intelligent, well-crafted, even if it's downright unsettling. Simply put, Love Jerry isa remarkable piece of theatre, and a credit to the Festival.
What impresses is that the pedophilia subject is tackled with real compassion. Jerry (Harris Doran), the pedophile in question, has welcomed his cash-strapped family into his home: brother Mike (J.T. Arbogast), sister-in-law Kate (Donna Lynne Champlin) and their eight-year-old son, Andy (never seen onstage). We jump around in time throughout the show, from Jerry’s post-prison therapy sessions to many months earlier, as he begins his downward spiral and inappropriate relationship with his nephew. Thanks to Hilary Adams’ lucid direction, the sequence of events is clear, even with all the time skipping.
Songs are interspersed, with each number an inward monologue for the characters. As a result, Love Jerry feels more like a play with music than a traditional musical. Gogerty is a melodic and haunting songwriter and the acoustic, lilting sound of the piece suits the characters beautifully. The orchestra consists of three supporting cast members (Annalyse McCoy, Jonas Cohen and Katrina Yaukey) who play guitar, clarinet, flute and accordion when they aren’t in a scene themselves.
The cast is the final piece of the puzzle. Champlain as Kate is the most familiar name in the company and she gives a restrained and convincing performance as she begins to comprehend what’s going on under her own roof. But the story really belongs to Mike and Jerry, and both Arbogast and Doran are strong performers. Doran, in particular, has a little-boy appeal that make his dangerous undertones feel even more shocking.
This is a disturbing show, one whose characters stick with you. It’s not a perfect piece (the unresolved ending is a disappointment), but it’s just the sort of challenging work you hope the musical theatre festival can bring to light.
Love Jerry runs through Sept. 27 at TBG. Sept. 18 at 8pm, Sept. 19 at 1pm, Sept. 20 at 4:30 pm, Sept. 21 at 8pm, Sept. 25 at 8pm, Sept. 27 at 8pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay.
The one big drawback of the festival format is limited preparation time. As a consequence the final product is often erratic and uneven. . .a particular problem with a musical, where singing and choreography have to enter the mix. But as David Arthur (book and lyrics) and Jeffrey Lodin’s (music) new musical About Face proves, when a production boasts quality material and professionalism you’ve got a good show on your hands.
Combine Grease with Shakespeare and you’ve got the basic idea of About Face, which sets Much Ado About Nothing in the idyllic environment of 1950s Whittney College. Well, sort of idyllic—because there’s some tension brewing below the placid surface between the coach of the perennial loser football team, Bill Benedick (played with gusto by Mark Zimmerman), and the first female professor at the college, Beatrice Stanton (the never disappointing Barbara Walsh). An external grant promises a serious boost to the fortunes of whichever section of the college receives it, and both Benedick and Stanton are determined to get it, throwing barbs at each other at every opportunity en route. Meanwhile star quarterback Claude Matthews (Nick Mannix) and Beatrice’s niece Vicki Stanton (Aubrey Sinn) are increasingly enamored of each other, despite Beatrice’s reservations. Throw in the machinations of Jake (Mark Christine), who like the original play’s Don John is determined to create as much havoc as he can, and the stage is literally set for a series of mishaps and mayhem, fifties style.
The essential plot will be familiar to anyone who knows Shakespeare’s play, but that’s part of the success of this production: everything, from the clever lyric twists to the surprisingly subtle music to solid choreography (Mary MacLeod) and generally good work by the cast members (in addition to the principals, John Horton as Dean Leonard and Rebecca Weiner as Vicki’s roommate Maggie turn in excellent performances) is tight and together, and the combined effect is one of satisfaction with a well-constructed piece of musical theater. There are a few rough edges here and there, but on the whole this is a charming and professional production, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it make the jump out of the festival setting. This is good work, well worth seeing.
About Face runs through September 24th at 37 Arts Theatre C. Sep. 17 at 8 p.m., Sep. 19 at 8 p.m., Sep. 20 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., Sep. 21 at 1 p.m., Sep. 24 at 9 p.m. Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson.
Max & the Truffle Pig
Max & the Truffle Pig is a charming musical that stands precariously on a fence between adult and children’s theater. Although many bright children will undoubtedly enjoy this show about Suzette (Jennifer Albano) a truffle pig who can’t stand dirt and the chef’s son, Max (Kevin Michael Murphy) who befriends her, there are few who will really understand what they are watching.
The musical, based on a children’s book by Judith Gwyn Brown, has a book by Suzanne Bradbeer, lyrics by Nancy Leeds and music by Bert Draesel. It is directed and choreographed by Erica Gould, who tries, somewhat successfully to make the play appealing to adults while at the same time being child friendly.
The most engaging part of the story is Max and Suzette’s quest to find truffles for the cake Chef Gerard (Jeremy Schwartz) is to make for La Comtesse Lily Augusta Marie (Antoinette LaVecchia). Eventually they are joined by Madame Simone (Cindy Cheung), a farmer’s wife looking for a lost handkerchief; Jean (Bob Skolits), a shepherd searching for his missing flute; and Sylvie (Antoinette LaVecchia), a milkmaid who is trying to find her misplaced hat. Unfortunately, Bradbeer gives this quest far too little attention. Instead she wastes her efforts on long scenes between the comtesse and her maid which are mostly too frivolous to be of much interest to an adult and at the same time, above most children's heads.
Every play for children should, on some level, be of interest to the adults who accompany them. But how do lines like "Screw your courage to the sticking point" and "J’accuse" fit into a children’s musical? How many children will understand references to "shining turrets" and "flying buttresses"? Why does Max sing, "Je ne sais pas where to start" instead of sticking to good old English? And for that matter, how many children know that pigs are used to find truffles or even what a truffle is? Surely the playwright could have taken the time to explain the nature of Suzette’s job to them.
Children should never be talked down to. On the other hand they shouldn’t be teased and left trying to catch meanings beyond their reach.
Max & the Truffle Pig runs through September 23 at 45th Street Theater. Sept. 15 at 8pm, Sept. 17 at 4:30 pm., Sept. 20 at 1pm & 4:30pm, Sept. 21 at 4:30pm, Sept. 23 at 8pm. And an added performance Sept. 25 at 4:30pm.Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons September 20, 2008
Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale
The real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were Depression-era gangsters who not only robbed banks, small stores and gas stations, but also murdered numerous police officers as well as innocent bystanders. The 1967 film turned the duo into tragic figures — victims of their times and their own warped, though mostly genial, personalities. And now Hunter Foster and Rick Crom”s musical transforms them into folk heroes.
Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale is a burlesque that manages to mock and pay tribute to the American penchant for glorifying outlaws and gunslingers. The show features a truly gifted and energetic cast, and Mark Waldrop’s imaginative direction keeps the show moving buoyantly from the opening "Land of Opportunity" to the blue-eyed gospel closing, "Live, Live, Live."
Elyse, I'm being a nudge. Diane Davis as the irrepressible, independent Bonnie and Jason Wooten as the debonair and charming Clyde are an irresistible couple. Most of the humor is supplied by supporting characters: Kevin Carolan as the sexually deviant J. Edgar Hoover; Kevin Cahoon as Clyde’s cohort, the howling, wicker-obsessed Ray Hamilton; Julie Johnson as Bonnie’s loud-mouthed but wise friend, Martha; Cole Burden (Buck Barrow) and Rachel Coloff (Blanche Barrow) as Clyde’s brother and his over-sexed wife.
Crom blends honky tonk, country, and even mariachi music, into a hand-clapping, toe-tapping score that sounds familiar in all the best ways. Foster’s lyrics are funny, clever and filled with surprising rhymes. The show hilariously renders car chases, shoot-outs and narrow escapes, while sidestepping the couple’s bloody ending. Although Bonnie and Clyde’s growing affection for each is a major theme in the musical, Foster and Crom refuse to romanticize the outlaw’s lives or love. And they have loads of fun laughing at those who have.
Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale runs through Sept. 28 at ATA. Sept. 16 at 8pm, Sept. 19 at 7 pm, Sept. 21 at 5pm and 9pm, Sept. 27 at 4:30pm, Sept. 28 at 5pm. —Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons.
The very thought of bedbugs is enough to make some of us itchy. The little buggers certainly seem to be unlikely candidates for musicalization (what next, lice?). Nevertheless, Bedbugs!!!, the new spoof musical by Paul Leschen (music) and Fred Sauter (book and lyrics) gives these tiny nuisances their own voice, transforming them into mutant, human-sized bugs determined to take over New York City. Thanks to a goofy and committed cast, a thumping pop-rock score, and a production which revels in its low-budget glory, Bedbugs is a zany success
The story is even more over-the-top than it sounds. Carly (the iron-lunged Celina Carvajal), our heroine, is a slightly unstable exterminator with a vendetta against bedbugs. She inadvertently creates the mutant strain which leads to chaos and mass death. And that’s just the beginning. Carly then falls in love with the leader of the bedbugs (Christopher Hall, who bears a hilarious resemblance to a glittery heavy metal star). Meanwhile, has-been Canadian chanteuse Dionne Salon (Brian Charles Rooney, in an uncanny Celine Dion impersonation) is trapped in the city with her overbearing manager-husband (H. Wayne Williams) as she prepares for a comeback.
Celine Dion — er, sorry, Dionne Salon — seems an odd character to insert into a sci-fi horror spoof, but then Bedbugs!!! doesn’t just mock science fiction, it also targets 1980s rock and musical theatre itself for lampoonery. That's where Leschen and Sauter’s score comes in. While the show as a whole is more wacky than witty, Leschen and Sauter have created a set of songs with a great deal of cleverness and craft, truly worthy of Madonna in her Material Girl days.
The show is resolutely unserious and I’d have liked to see at least a few moments of genuine emotion. That said, the team behind it knows its strengths: Director Samuel Buggeln stages the action with an appropriately campy style and showcases his cast’s talent for comedy, and the outfits by costume designers Amanda Bujak and Chris Rumery fit the zany tone of the show perfectly.
Bedbugs runs through September 27th at TBG. SeptyE, Sept 16, 8:00 pm; Sept 17, 4:30 pm; Sept 20, 8:00 pm; Sept 21, 1:00 pm; Sept 24, 8:00 pm; Sept 25, 4:30pm; Sept 27, 4:30 pm; Sept 27, 11:00pm. Reviewed by Julia Furay