There’s a reason why Flambé Dreams was the first show to sell-out at this year’s New York Musical Theater Festival. An adorable cast accompanied by even more adorable lyrics made for an enjoyable musical, even if the theater’s air conditioning couldn’t quite get the job done. It actually paralleled the story nicely; the heat in the theater mimicked the flames on stage. The very first number told of a father’s death by restaurant fire, and the rest of the production followed his son’s mission to hold a flaming dessert parade in his honor.
Quirky, slightly-OCD Joe Christiansen, played by Jarrod Spector, just wanted to become a great Maitre d’ like his father, who died in a freak flaming Bananas Foster accident during one of his famous flambé dessert parades. But after the one restaurant in Preston, Idaho is sold to make way for malls with food courts, Joe heads off to the bright lights and fine dining of New York City to fulfill his destiny of becoming the Maitre d’ at Le Cirque, the restaurant of his dreams.
Each leg of his journey is labeled as a different course on the “menu” of musical numbers, until he finally reaches his happy ending at “Dessert,” which laughably ends up being in Hoboken, New Jersey. He moves from the “Starter” at his restaurant in Idaho, to the “Salad,” his first job at a hippie’s holistic tearoom in Manhattan. “Soup” is a cashier job at a Chinatown Noodle Shop, and the play’s climax happens at “Entrée” when Joe finally gets his shot to Maitre d’ at Le Cirque.
Joe goes through a series of mentors at these various restaurants, each played by the hilarious Kevin B. McGlynn, who shifts seamlessly from a drugged-up hippie, to an angry Chinese chef, finally landing on an uppity French man with a silly moustache.
McGlynn sings a different song as each mentor, each with their own not-so-serious life lesson to teach, but it’s the women in this musical who steal the show. There’s Joe’s over-protective mother played by Catherine Cox, whose stress about his OCD and medication leaves her frazzled and slouched.
Joe visits all 211 Duane Reades in the New York Metropolitan area to find his true love/pharmacist Gloria, played by Jillian Louis, who’s perky smile and blonde bangs made her into a dorky Cinderella figure. Except here, she was the one with the Prozac magic slipper. J. Elaine Marcos was by far the funniest; she played Gloria’s loud Latina friend Desirée and Joe’s first girlfriend D.D., who dated him to satisfy her Maitre d’ fetish.
The set was simple and movable, and the backdrop just a screen that displayed the next musical course listed on the menu, walking you through each scene change. The star musician was the tireless keyboardist Larry Pressgrove, who also served as the musical director. The bassist, guitarist, and drummer were hidden behind him on stage left, but the sound was so spotless you could hardly tell it was live.
If you like quirky tales of self-discovery, you’ll love Flambé Dreams. As soon as Joe loses a job, he immediately finds another until he finally opens his own restaurant with his pharmacist girlfriend who happens to double as a chef. No one expects a realistic musical, and with songs about erotic Maitre d’ing and inflatable girlfriends, Flambé Dreams takes it a silly step in the right direction.
Photos by Lena Adasheva, from top:
1. Jarrod Spector, Jillian Louis, J. Elaine Marcos and Kevin B. McGlynn
2. Jarrod Spector
The 45th Street Theatre
354 West 45th Street
Tuesday July 17th @ 4:30 & 8PM