Actors Dee Dee Allen, a larger than life, rather dim-witted belter (Beth Leavel with superb pipes), and flamboyant Barry Glickman, self declared “as gay as a bucket of wigs” (the capable Brooks Ashmanskas who deserves better), have just received scathing reviews in a musical about Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Commiserating with second rate, actor-now-waiter Trent Oliver (a genial Christopher Sieber) and veteran chorus girl Angie, (Angie Schworer – imagine a taller Jane Krakowski), they decide something must be done to allay accurate public perception of narcissism.
Josh Lamon, Beth Leavel, Brooks Ashmanskas, Angie Schworer
None of these characters are likeable. The best part of this scene is the awful review. Barry’s pink, embroidered jacket is the most pleasing garment on a stage full of unflattering costumes, a visual that unfortunately continues throughout. Only Dee Dee occasionally wears something that works for her. (Costumes are surprisingly by the bankable Ann Roth – and Matthew Patchman.) I’m not looking for glamour here, just apparel that attractively fits time, place, and people. Wigs by Josh Marquette are obvious and dreadful.
Our motley group decide to become celebrity activists. Searching for a cause that’s fairly local, nonviolent, and high profile, Angie comes across a town in Indiana that cancelled its high school prom because a lesbian wants to take her girlfriend.
Beleaguered Emma (Caitlin Kinnenun) is being tortured by fellow students in the name of the Bible. “…note to self-don’t be gay in Indiana…” she sings. A pink teddy bear is hung by a noose in her locker. Kinnenun is engaging, credible, a good actress/singer and, aside from school principal, Mr. Hawkins, (Michael Potts-nice low key performance), the only sympathetic character in the piece. (Barry becomes sympathetic, but we’re almost past caring by that point.)
Michael Potts, Brooks Ashmanskas, Beth Leavel, Christopher Sieber, Caitlin Kinnunen
With rabble-rousing head of PTA, Mrs. Greene (Courtney Collins-aptly wince-inducing), these few flounder in a sea of personalities who are self-consciously, wink-wink, over the top. Most of it’s high camp, unfunny parody with loads and loads of in jokes for theater going regulars. The rest is a heartwarming story of self-realization whose declarations the audience cheers. Uneasy bedfellows.
The theater people “We’re liberal democrats from Broadway!” plus producer Sheldon Saperstein (Josh Lamon -where’s Stubby Kaye when you need him?), crash a school meeting just at the point Mr. Hawkins thinks he’s close to agreement for the all-inclusive prom dictated by the state’s attorney general. Declaring their support of Emma, Dee Dee sings “It’s Not About Me” in an Ann Margaret-like production number. Things are exacerbated. The NY Group is determined to HELP.
During this segment, we discover Mrs. Green’s straight-looking, overachieving daughter, Alyssa (Isabelle McCalla – ho-hum), is secretly Emma’s girlfriend. She’s sworn she’ll come out at the prom. Promises, promises.
Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen
Things get much worse before they get better. There’s a real story buried in here, even, possibly, an appealing musical. Both sentiment and overcoming prejudice, especially with a plucky heroine, are normally appealing hooks on which to base a show. If only it would make up its mind. Mean Girls and Be More Chill, other high school, issue-based plays, land without this kind of self-consciousness.
Matthew Sklar’s music is generic. Chad Beguelin’s Book is part of the schizophrenic problem. His second act is appreciably better because it’s less torn. Lyrics outshine music by at least 50 percent.
Casey Nicholaw, of whom I’m generally a fan, seems to be losing some of the choreographic originality. The hip hop meets Broadway dance numbers don’t quite shine. They are, however, energetic and bright.
Scott Pask’s Scenery looks like it was designed for the touring company, which is to say, cheaper and packable.
The audience seemed to enjoy this piece more than I did, though many didn’t get Broadway references.
Photos by Deen van Meer
Opening: The Company
Book by Bob Martin nd Chad Beguelin
Music by Mathew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Based on an original concept by Jack Viertel
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
220 West 48th Street