BWW Review: Joshua Henry Thrills With Authoritative Vocals, Sensitive Acting in Ross Golan's THE WRONG MAN
Songwriter Ross Golan has frequently ranked high in the pop charts with hits for the likes of Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Nicki Minaj and Justin Bieber, and for his first venture into musical theatre, he's got some pretty high-ranking stars on his team as well, in director Thomas Kail, music supervisor/arranger/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire and, most valuably, powerhouse singer/actor Joshua Henry.
So if The Wrong Man, which was originally developed as a solo piece performed by the author before being released as a concept album, hits a few snags as far as drama and musical theatre craft are concerned (advocates of pure rhyming, be forewarned), the new offering at MCC bubbles with captivating musical variety, entrancing movement and thoroughly engaging performances by a terrific cast.
The plot of the 90-minutes story is a simple one, with a curious number of references to Johnny Cash and his "Folsom Prison Blues." Set in Reno, a financially and romantically down-on-his luck fellow named Duran (Henry) meets, and quickly gets into a relationship with, the similarly baggage-laden Marianna (Ciara Renée), just around the time when her jealous husband (Ryan Vasquez playing a character called The Man In Black) has been released from you know what prison.
Murders are committed and, though the audience can see he's innocent, Duran is arrested through thin circumstantial evidence. It's a bit noir and a bit melodramatic, but it can also be taken as an attack on the legal system's tendency to subjugate people of color.
Working with choreographer Travis Wall, Kail's signature fluid staging showcases an ensemble of dancers whose ballet interludes soften up the violence and romanticize the sex.
Since his breakthrough performance nearly ten years ago in AMERICAN IDIOT, which was soon followed by a Tony-nominated turn in THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, Joshua Henry has been thrilling audiences with his authoritative vocals, sensitive acting and firm presence. With Duran, he's granted a role that fully frames his skills as he expresses the injustice of his situation with both controlled reason and bursts of emotion, occasionally singling out members of the onstage audience in search of a sympathetic ear.
Unfortunately, Golan's lyrics lean towards narrating emotions instead of expressing them, occasionally leading to clumsy moments like, "The wrong man / Is singing this song, man."
Renée's Marianna is a woman who smolders with sexuality when she chooses to turn it on, covering her tender, vulnerable side, which, at one point, is expressed with the lyric, "Some good people, good people do bad things, bad things / But that's not you, that's not you."
Vasquez pulls off the neat trick of giving a fun, comical performance without sacrificing how horrible his character is. He's also granted a pair of rousing numbers about accepting the fact that he's no good, performed with mock-apologies to the audience.
Golan's mixture of contemporary pop music sounds is certainly catchy, and appropriate to the setting and characters, but this is another case of generalized, narrative lyrics that may work fine for a three-minute song not fulfilling the needs of musical theatre drama. Fortunately, MCC's production of The Wrong Man has got the right people to lift the material above its limitations.