BWW Reviews: NIETZSCHE! THE MUSICAL from Unexpected Productions
Unexpected Productions over at the Market Theatre are currently presenting a little different theatrical fare in addition to their usual Theatresports line up in the world premiere of "Nietzsche! The Musical!" And while the show is filled with wonderful moments of cleverness and wit, it really needs some work.
The show centers on (who else?) Friedrich Nietzsche (played by Justin Sund). But the story bounces back and forth from his history to present day where Helen Cohen (Sarah Petty), a slightly obsessed woman, is teaching Sunday school but instead of the Bible she is using the works of Nietzsche to inform the kids on how to live their lives. To her horror, her own son, Ben Cohen (Ryan McCabe), has given up their non-practicing Jewish ways and joined up with a Jesus loving group waiting for the Rapture led by the overly charismatic Kyle (Evan Woltz). Meanwhile, back in the 1800's, we go through the trials and tribulations of Nietzsche such as his unrequited love for Lou Salome (Stephanie Holser) as well as a sister, Elisabeth (Shana Pennington-Baird) and her husband Berhard (Guy Nelson) who want to appropriate Nietzsche's work to further the Nazi movement against his will. Confused? So were we at times.
While having moments of hilarity the show suffers from two major problems, a desperate need for some trimming and an assumption of its audience's familiarity and affinity for Nietzsche. Yes, they tell us a bit about the man and his work like they're speaking to a bunch of kids at the beginning. Mostly because they are as the scene is Helen teaching her Sunday school students. But then they get into more and more of his history and long speeches about his works which drag the show down so far that they can barely claw their way out for the next humorous number. There are wonderful numbers. "Ubermensch" sung with a gospel take, and Kyle's rousing anthem "Jesus is my BFF" were show stoppers. But those moments were too few and far between. And unfortunately there were some issues with body mics causing some of the historical and more serious songs to be drowned out by the band and so the lyrics were lost.
The cast is wonderful. Sund gleefully plays Nietzsche with a smirk and a mischievous twinkle in his eye and the overdone wig he wore (which for some reason didn't make it into the photos) was a comedy act all on its own. Woltz is hysterical as the overzealous and a little scary Kyle. McCabe practically stole the show with his Act II opener. Petty is manically stunning as she teaches her Sunday school disciples the words of the Master. And a special note for the uncredited sound bites of a couple of kids trying to articulate heady questions such as "What is Good?", "What is Evil?" and "Who is God?" And if we stuck to moments like those the show would be a winner.
Unfortunately the show suffers from not knowing what it wants to be. It's half satirical romp and half thesis project. No, it really is. The show is actually the thesis project for the lyricist and book writer Jeremy Richards. And while I applaud his ambitious and out of the ordinary way to present his project, he has to realize not all of us took that class on Nietzsche. But we certainly got a crash course in it at the theater.
So is it worth seeing? Yes. The moments that work, work very well. And with some trimming I think this would make an outstanding one act show that I would be more than happy to see again. But let's wait until after Richards gets his grade.
"Nietzsche! The Musical" plays at the Market Theatre through June 12th. For tickets or information contact Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006 or visit them online at www.brownpapertickets.com or www.unexpectedproductions.org.
Photo Credit : Colleen Gillon