NYMF Notes: Part 2
Such Good Friends
Funny Girl meets Top Banana meets Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been? in Noel Katz's wonderfully funny and beautifully touching Such Good Friends, one of the best musical comedies I've seen in years. It's the story of an awkward 1930's Broadway chorus girl (Liz Larsen), whose choreographer (Dirk Lumbard) sees her potential as a comedienne and introduces her to the gang at a club called "The Pranksters," who help hone her comic skills. Eventually she becomes the star of a popular 1950's television variety show, with her Prankster buddies hired as director (Brad Oscar) and head writer (Jeff Talbott). A sketch lampooning Joe McCarthy earns the three of them subpoenas to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and the decisions they make while on the witness stand seriously affect their friendship and careers.
Though the story is a grim one in American history, Katz's main characters are all funny people who use humor as both a defense mechanism and a weapon, so there is always a realistic lightness at the surface. The lively and hummable score easily blends the vaudevillian antics of the first act into the emotional heartache of the second with sharp lyrics and clever rhymes. Director Marc Bruni's production is full of moxie.
Liz Larsen is just sensational in a leading role that showcases both her delightful clowning skills and her strong, emotion-packed belt. Brad Oscar's solid supporting turn as the show-biz savvy but frightened director is also memorable, as are Talbott's rage against Joe McCarthy and Lumbart's joyous tapping.
Such Good Friends can still use a little work. There's a potentially interesting sub-plot that quickly fizzles out and the 29 song score can use a little cutting in order to strengthen the book a bit, but at it's current state it's still a winner.
The Globe Theatre has been abandoned for CBGB in Brandon Patton (music and lyrics) and Stephen O'Rourke's (book and lyrics) hilarious punk rock adaptation of Love's Labours Lost. Love Sucks may be light on the Shakespeare (although there is a reference to a band named The Rude Mechanicals) and heavy on ear-splitting guitar riffs, but in the end it's a fun, well written musical comedy featuring a talented cast that not only acts and sings, but (logically) plays their own instruments.
It's 1976 and The Molotovs (Nicholas Webber, Rob Marnell, Andrew M. Ross and Jason Wooten) are gearing up for a battle of the bands. But leader Big Joe (Webber) is concerned that his mates have been spending too much time with their girlfriends, distracting them from their music. He lays down the law. They can keep having sex, but they can't sleep with the same girl more than three times because that makes her a girlfriend. (They sing, "If you like her you may hump her/But after three times you'd better dump her.")
Meanwhile, The Guttersnipes (Rebecca Hart, Caryn Havlik, Heather Robb and Athena Reich) are prepping for the same contest and their leader, Patti (Hart), has laid down a similar "no boyfriends" law. When the two bands meet they naturally start pairing off in secret, except for Big Joe and Patti, who repel each other so much you know they must be hot for each other.
The score is authentic and loud, making the lyrics difficult to understand (part of what makes it authentic), but what I did get was funny and entertaining. There's a great running gag where punk rockers in love start singing in easy listening or acoustic style.
There are still those who say that rock music doesn't belong in musical theatre, but with a good-humored, raucously staged (by Andy Goldberg) show like Love Sucks, I say crank up the volume and have a blast.
Given that Brian Fountain's JC2K is only being presented three times at the New York Musical Theatre Festival with limited staging and actors reading their parts from music stands, I'd rather not give a review of the show right now, even a capsulated one. However I will encourage anyone interested in an audacious little show that just might inspire as many as it offends to try and catch its final scheduled performance, October 5 at 11PM.
The plot sounds like a bad joke until you catch on to how reverently it's presented. It seems the U.S. government has been carrying on a top-secret mission called "Onward Christian Soldiers," where an army of Jesus Christ clones has been assembled using DNA from the Shroud of Turin. The Christ clones not only have miraculous powers but have no knowledge of God or The Bible and have been programmed to kill when sensing danger. When one confused clone escapes, he befriends a single mother named Mary who works as a stripper to try and provide for her sickly son. You know where this is going.
Though the score has moments of jazz and pop, the musical is predominantly in the raw, rhythmic style of the political musical dramas of the 1930's, best exemplified by the work of Marc Blitzstein. Like Blitzstein, Fountain's lyrics are conversational and sometimes on the vulgar side.
JC2K is quite the curiosity, and at this state a very interesting effort.
Top photo by Donyale Werle: Brad Oscar, Jeff Talbott, Liz Larsen, and Dirk Lumbard in Such Good Friends; bottom photo by Stuart Rakley: Nicholas Webber and Rebecca Hart in Love Sucks