HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD AND FIND TRUE LOVE IN 90 MINUTES
LUCILLE LORTEL THEATRE
'How to Save the World and Find True Love in 90 Minutes" is a self-empowerment musical set at the United Nations, a lovable meringue about "opening your heart" and "love conquering fear" against a novel but shallowly appropriated backdrop of global intrigue. Its silliness and verve are delightful, begging a new revision and production.
Miles (Michael McEachren) is a young American tour guide at the UN, and a self-proclaimed coward constantly singing about his anxieties and fears. (Why does he work where bomb threats are phoned in daily?) His bud Julie (Anika Larsen), a pigtailed, yoga-loving UN Bookstore clerk, is secretly in love with him. Miles, however, is hot for Violet (Nicole Ruth Slenson), an ice-queen diplomat with the US Mission. Alas, she's schtupping a Marxist guerrilla who'll terrorize the General Assembly with a jarful of virus! Hijinks, subplot, happy resolution.
As the unlikable Miles, Mr. McEachren works his dorky appeal like hell, but he shines as the Marxist. Ms. Larsen is an effortlessly charming "neofeminist Buddhist Henry Higgins," and Ms. Snelson pulls off the toughest role with wit and elan. A Greek chorus (Trent Armand Kendall, Dorrey Lyn Lyles, and Robb Sapp) gamely play Miles's conscience and tons of tiny roles, singing better than they act. Seth Weinstein's score is engaging and ambitious.
Sadly, David H. Bell's direction veers between clunky staging and slick gags, and the design is awful, even by Fringe standards. Richard A. Kendrick's ficus trees and green "marble" benches evoke an office lobby in Boca, and D. Polly Kendrick's costumes are bush-league. NJNG, the show's producers (who gave "Bat Boy: The Musical" wings), should be shaken upside down until more change falls out of their pockets.
The show is packed with now-ubiquitous meta-musical jokes ("We don't have TIME for a power ballad!"). But aside from a hilarious reference to Disarmament Quarterly, lyricist/librettist Jonathan Karp misses too much of the potential comedic gold of the beleaguered UN - its fluctuating reputation, outdated bureaucracy, and Sisyphean struggles against natural and human-engineered atrocities.
Obviously, Messrs. Karp and Weinstein wanted to write a cutely "edgy" musical, not a Philip Gourevitch tome. But one can't help wishing they would aim higher and smarter more often. The show could be an amazing satire, but it lacks teeth. Given the current state of commercial theater, though, its eager, apolitical harmlessness probably ensures its future success.
- Colleen Werthmann, actor, 'Light Raise the Roof,' 'Suitcase,' 'Recent Tragic Events'
LUCILLE LORTEL THEATRE
A musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind's "Lulu" plays, set in jazz-era America, ought to be rife with dark sexuality and gritty humor. But the version running at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, created by Adam Gwon and Courtney Phelps, suffers from a lack of cohesive vision. It's neither dark nor sexy, and it's rarely funny.
The approach has promise. Mr. Gwon is obviously an extremely talented composer and lyricist, and some songs are gems, like the lovers' duet "Don't Mind Being Down," and a burlesque proprietess's "Come Clean" (performed with charming raunchiness by Maggie Letsche). Lulu's seductions raise fascinating questions: When does a young woman's exploration of her sexual power begin to contribute to her own objectification? If she chooses to exploit her only known assets, is she a victim or a perpetrator of societal ills?
These ideas aren't fleshed out in the show's melodramatic book. Although the performers admirably rise to the material's challenge, the intricacy and technical demands of the score grow overwhelming. Too many of the songs are showstoppers, weakening the impact of the performances and confusing the narrative.
The first act attempts a playful, arch, cabaret feel, while the second act tries for realistic, pathos-drenched tragedy. Ms. Phelps's direction doesn't quite make either choice coherent.
Brooke Sunny Moriber, as the title character, looks startlingly like Louise Brooks, and has a startlingly powerful voice. Her Lulu is a cipher, allowing all her lovers to mold her to suit their needs. It makes for an interesting theoretical discussion, but leaves one cold when the show gets serious.
There is a deeper, darker level absent from too many of the performances, although the voices are indisputably strong. As the doomed Dr. Goll, Craig Wells stands out. His style is both funny and touching, a bright spot in a show often overburdened by its own virtuosity.
- Marin Ireland, actor, 'The Harlequin Studies,' 'Where We're Born,' 'Far Away'
THE PASSION OF GEORGE W. BUSH
MICHAEL SCHIMMEL CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
'The Passion of George W. Bush" makes a statement before it even begins. The formidably large curtain, reflecting brightly colored lights, creates the effect of seeing a big swath of electoral red in the Michael Schimmel Center for the Performing Arts at Pace University.
The musical begins with a four-person choir in white (klan?) robes singing a song that introduces the Bush family circa 1950. Daddy is a stoic stuffed shirt ("Men like me put the 'G' in GOP"). Jeb (Charles Browning, who also plays Colin Powell) is the black sheep and young George (Colin Stokes) earnestly yearns to get into heaven. While Jeb is relegated to sleeping under George's bed, father Bush (Craig Baldwin) instructs Junior that the "road to heaven is lined with Bushes." (The show's book and lyrics are by John Herin and Adam B. Mathias; the music is by Alden Terry.)
Next, we see young George coping with his alcoholism and being a loser. He passes out cold, and in his drunken stupor thinks he is visited by God. In fact, it is Dick Cheney (Michael Gladis), taking advantage of W.'s drunken confusion. Dick's introductory dirge ends with W.'s fervent religious conversion, certain that God has spoken to him. He is visited by three "disciples": Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, and Cheney himself. The gullible, if honorable, Bush earnestly strives for greatness and his father's approval, only to become a tool of the evil trio.
Under the direction of Simon Hammerstein, the biting satire ultimately does the president a service: It portrays him as a principled man of integrity duped by carelessly cunning manipulators. Rove (Jonathan Putterman) is a sadistic Machiavellian who makes young George swallow his chewing tobacco to prove his earnestness. Condi (Thursday Farrar) gets off every time Dick starts talking dirty, and Dick is the mastermind behind everything. (Powell is relegated to fetching coffee and answering phones.)
Through the humor comes a seething anger that isn't really directed at the president himself: He's too infantile and good-natured. The show follows a real-life trend to view W. as a puppet, or the servant of many masters. Only history will tell.
In the meantime, if you want to see Dick Cheney defibrillate himself, Condi Rice sing a lullaby, George Bush salute stagehands dressed as Secret Service agents (a marvelous directorial touch), and what could be an almost reasonable genesis of the "No Child Left Behind" slogan, then "The Passion of George W. Bush" is definitely for you.
- Sean Dugan, actor, 'Valhalla,' 'Flesh and Blood,' 'Henry IV'
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A WONDER WOMAN
THE PUFFIN ROOM
'I am Wonder Woman. I am an Amazon. I am immortal," says performer Tara Hendry, clad in the infamous bullet-breasted, red, white, and blue superhero suit of Princess Diana, aka Wonder Woman. Terry Newman's "The Life and Times of a Wonder Woman" is a burlesque-influenced solo evening full of WW lore. Ms. Hendry, as Wonder Woman, relates her story and mythology, with some gossip on other superheroes and analysis of gender construction in postwar society.
The problem is that the piece is primarily a history lesson, with little to latch onto once the comic-book oneliners have passed. The show most comes to life when Ms. Hendry (delightful as the irreverent, "knackered" superhero) shifts into crime fighter mode. In strobe-light action sequences, she turns, kicks, and uses her magic lariat. These moments break up the infomercial-esque narrative. Later, they also become a key to understanding the show's conceit. (Stop reading here if you don't want to know the show's secret.)
This "Wonder Woman" is actually a stripper named Susan, performing somewhere in England. Wonder Woman, once Susan's heroine (thank you, Lynda Carter) is now her dance hall alter ego. The twist might be more effective if it were disclosed earlier, so the audience might know more (and care more) about Susan, instead of feeling barraged with information about Wonder Woman's sad demise in popular culture. When, a few moments before its end, the narrative turns to Susan herself, it is vaguely unsatisfying; the relationship between "story" and "history lesson" seems uneasy.
Wonder Woman comments that each of the writers and illustrators involved in her long history has "reinterpreted me in the light of his own female fantasy." I yearned for Ms. Hendry, Mr. Newman, and director Michael Eriera to show me the alternative. Who might she be if she were really unleashed? Self-authored? More than "the goddess of your dreams" and instead, the goddess of her own?
- Brooke Berman, playwright, 'Smashing,' 'Sam and Lucy,' 'The Triple Happiness'
LOVE POLLUTION: A TEKNO POPERA
THE PLAYERS THEATRE
'Love Pollution: a Tekno Popera" is a painfully tacky, refreshingly earnest play. There is no set. Different characters (there are 35 total, played by 13 performers) run on and off the stage in mind-bogglingly garish costumes, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of cheesy synthesizer music.
The two main plot strands are: 1) A fembot named Hallelujia [sic] (Andrea Cornett) is seeking her mate and 2) An anarchistic gang called "The Townies" is trying to rid the world of ugly thoughts. The show pursues its storyline through a rapid succession of scenes, accumulating characters and weird plot turns as it goes.
The remarkable thing about "Love Pollution" is that it is completely unpretentious. It is not a failed attempt to attain some pompous end, nor is it a smirkingly ironic mockery of unsophisticated theater. It wants to be fun (which it is) and thought-provoking (not so much) on its own goofy terms.
So when The Townies (wearing fluorescent 1980s/Punky Brewster-style gang outfits) take turns rapping about getting screwed by The Man and sing, "We're The Townies, and we live in your town / With our manifesto we're gonna break it down," the audience is given no reassuring wink with which to smugly shield itself from the abominations. The night I saw the show, a handful of people couldn't handle it and walked out.
"Love Pollution" commits fully to every aspect of itself, from its cheesy aesthetic to its heartfelt message (something about the power of true love to conquer evil consumerist shallowness), to its convoluted plot. Suddenly, we are watching Hallelujia have an orgy with Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves, and reindeer. But within the context of the show it makes perfect sense; moreover, it's actually sexy.
The cast and creators - writer/director Allen Conkle, writer Courtney Evans, and composer Christopher Powers - are completely true to their vision. Love it or hate it (I'll admit I was horrified), the show feels authentic. If you go, don't walk out.
-Young Jean Lee, playwright/director, 'The Appeal'; member, 13P