BWW Reviews: A Bit Disjointed but SECONDHAND LIONS at 5th Ave Full of Fantasy and Heart
OK, so we're all sick of the trend of movies turned into musicals but, Dear Readers, just as movies have to keep remaking themselves, Broadway will keep culling from film vaults for new musicals. Let's face it, it ain't going anywhere. But if they're going to do it, such as with the current production of "Secondhand Lions" being tried out on the stages of the 5th Avenue Theatre, let's make sure it can be done on a stage and still make sense. Yes, the fanciful stories and budding and heartfelt relationship between the two old curmudgeons and their young nephew are still there and done quite well in moments. But the attempt to jam that title down our throats without even the slightest hint of the actual lion storyline feels a bit insulting to anyone who saw the film. But we'll get to that in a minute.
For those unfamiliar with the film (and that could be quite a few of you since it was not a hugely successful one) we meet Hub and Garth McCann (Mark Jacoby and Gregg Edelman), two aging brothers who just want to be left alone to spend their dying days on their isolated farm in Texas. Enter their niece Mae (Kendra Kaseebaum) who has dropped in on her Uncles to drop off her son Walter (Johnny Rabe) to live with them for the summer while she goes off to try and find herself a husband. But Mae also has an ulterior motive, as she wants Walter to find the fortune rumored to be on The Farm that Hub and Garth allegedly accumulated by robbing banks in their youth. The relationship starts out strained but Walter and the Uncles warm to each other, especially as Garth tells Walter about their time in the French Foreign Legion, how he says they really spent their youth (with their younger selves played by Kevin Earley and Jared Michael Brown), and their adventures trying to save a beautiful Moroccan Princess (Jenny Powers) from a power mad Sultan (Jason Danieley). But which story is the truth, bank robbers or heroes and does it matter among family?
Like I said, the fun and adventure of the stories are all there and work well into the musical format. And blissfully those stories don't completely overtake the relationship between Walter and the Uncles as I feared it might as the heart of the piece, the relationship, is still there and even got me to tear up a little bit at the end (because I'm a sap). But for a show called "Secondhand Lions" based on a movie where an aging circus lion is rescued and becomes a young child's friend and gateway into fantasy, there is a shocking lack of lions. In fact the only lions of the piece are that the alleged bank robbers were (now) called the Wild Lion Boys as forcibly described in the shows innocuous opening number. And if that square peg in a round hole weren't pounded enough then they must have felt the title still didn't make sense as they randomly called a rebuilt plane the Secondhand Lion. Um, ok? You know, if the likes of Tick Tock the Crocodile, Simba and Milky White can be brought to life on stages with ingenious costumes and puppetry, I think you could manage one lion thus restoring sense and connection to the original piece and its title. And if that weren't bad enough they also tried to insinuate a love interest for young Walter by giving him an excessively erudite neighbor named Jane (Sophia Anne Caruso), which does nothing but serve to dilute the relationship between Walter and the Uncles.OK so yes, the book and some of the songs need work (in fact I didn't feel the show really got going until the third number where we met little Walter) but what is there is pulled off by a spectacular cast. Edelman and Jacoby are wonderful as the aging loners and each build a very sweet relationship with Walter. Walter himself is excellently portrayed by Rabe. For a kid who's forced to carry a lot of the show he does a fine job. And as I said, he nailed his opening number that completely conveyed the character's goal. But much of the musicality of the show is dealt in the past and the past is alive and well. Brown is adorable as the meeker of the two brothers and makes a perfect counterpoint for his spontaneous brother, swoon-worthily played by Earley. Earley and Powers have tons of fun chemistry together as they battle any number of bad guys. And Powers, oh Miss Powers. Your name does you justice. So much presence and authority in one thin woman not to mention a set of pipes that could bring down the Taj Mahal. And Danieley is delightful as the maniacal Sultan and kills some quite difficult patter songs.