BWW Reviews: IRON CURTAIN at Village Theatre
Village Theatre is currently asking the very unlikely question, "What happens when two American songwriters get kidnapped by cold war era KGB agents to write the quintessential Russian musical?" The answer is, "You get "Iron Curtain", the latest show to get a main stage production out of the Village Originals Festival, which amounts to two and a half hours of absolute bliss!"
Howard Katz and Murray Finkel (Matt Wolfe and Jared Michael Brown) are musical theater songwriters who just keep missing the mark with anything sellable. So when Murray sees an ad for a company looking for two composers he thinks they've hit the jackpot. But Howard is dubious and his suspicions are soon confirmed when the duo is kidnapped by the producers, Yengenyi Onanov and Sergei Schmearnov (Nick DeSantis and John Dewar) who turn out to be Russian agents and who fly the boys to Moscow to fix their failing Russian musical. There they meet the lovely chorus girl Masha Petrovna Haylukmikova (Danielle Barnum) and sadistic director Hildret Heinz (Bobbi Kotula) who fall for Murray and Howard. But everything is not all vodka and borscht as opening night approaches and the boys wonder if they'll ever make it home alive.
The show is at its core a glorious send up of the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "Road to ..." movies. Two Americans caught in a ridiculous situation in a foreign land. But what writers Susan DiLallo, Stephen Weiner and Peter Mills have done is taken that formula and turned it on its ear as they heighten the style of the genre to lovingly satirize it. Complete with zany characters, toe-tapping and gorgeous songs and more puns than you can shake a hammer and sickle at, the show delivers a knockout punch which left me giddy all the way home.
The entire cast is nothing less than superb. Wolfe and Brown each individually could carry the show with ease. Wolfe with his beleaguered every-man manages some of the most subtle comedic chops I've seen. Add to that a gorgeous voice which can go from zany patter song to heart wrenching ballad at the drop of a hat. And Brown has enough charm and charisma to match the likes of Gene Kelly and a velvet smooth voice to boot. Then put the two of them together for some incredible chemistry and it's gold. DeSantis and Dewar are hysterical as the polar opposite Russian agents and DeSantis nearly stopped the show with his glitzy ode to musical theater. Carolyn Magoon is wonderful as Howard's ever faithful almost fiancée Shirley who travels the globe to track down her man. Barnum is stunning as the chorus girl who wants to make it big. Her voice is only matched by her hilarity as she puts a whole new spin on the romantic ingénue. But the show was practically walked away with by favorite Bobbi Kotula who is part director, part secret agent and part dominatrix (if there really is a difference between the three). From the instant she walked on stage she owned it and her two big numbers were at the same time hilarious and touching. I've seen Kotula turn in some amazing performances before but here she is truly in the role of a lifetime here and she completely nails it.
And as much as the principles wowed, the ensemble each had their own moments to shine and shine they do. I specifically have to mention the delightfully deadpan Ellen McLain and the versatile and side-splitting Christine Nelson who each repeatedly tried to steal the show in two minute bits.
If that weren't enough throw in some outstanding costumes by Karen Ledger who managed the glitzy, gorgeous and funny all at the same time, exceptional music direction by R.J. Tancioco and first-rate choreography by Kristin Culp and director Steve Tomkins and Village has a sure fire hit on their hands. Tomkins has turned in some wonderful shows in the past but this one, I have to say, is nothing short of ... well ... BRILLIANTSKI!