BWW Review: Madcap Frolic BASTARD JONES Riffs On Henry Fielding's Bawdy Classic
While it's not unexpected to have the title character of a musical based on Henry Fielding's infamously bawdy 1749 novel "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling" be introduced to the audience while enjoying the afterglow of a lusty time with an agreeable lass, what's a bit surprising at first about Bastard Jones is that while singing of juicy peaches, pulsing blood, bees, flowers and whatnot, their post-coital intimacy includes her helping to strap on his wooden leg.
Though it's not written into the source material, nor specified in the adaptation's libretto, that the title character does not have the lower half of his right leg, that's the case with Evan Ruggiero, the funny and charismatic actor with a sexy rock belt who dynamically swaggers though the leading role in this irresistibly madcap frolic. It's a great example of casting diversity that's not seen often enough.
Previous stage and screen adaptations chronicling the free-loving adventures of a rascally commoner raised from infancy by a highborn landowner have ranged from subtly suggestive to downright pornographic, but the lovably silly and immensely tuneful version offered by Amy Englehardt (music/lyrics) and Marc Acito (book/lyrics/direction) is a decidedly American, pop rock charmer with a good, clean, healthy attitude towards having lots of consensual sex.
The agreeable lass in that opening scene, is Tom's friend Molly Seagrim, played with airheaded daffiness and solid comic chops by Alie B. Gorie, whose pregnancy thwarts the fellow's plans to somehow break through the class structure that keeps him from marrying his true love, the virtuous Sophia Shepherd.
Elena Wang displays a lovely soprano as Sophia, who ventures after Tom after he ventures off to discover the identity of his father. The authors give her what begins as a deceptively innocent art song where she describes the "tingle" she feels from being with Tom. Without being too blunt, it's suggested that this is not the kind of tingle she feels in her spine.
Connecting the story together is the malapropping host named Partridge (played with showman's gusto by Rene Ruiz), who joins with Tom for the evening's song and dance highlight, a vaudevillian turn named for the Latin phrase, "Nil Desperandum" (meaning "Never Despair"). Among other delights, the lyric manages to rhyme Lysistrata with persona non grata.
Things get downright raunchy in the second half with the appearance of hot belter Crystal Lucas-Perry as the insatiable Lady Bellaston, whose passion nearly devours her overwhelmed lover (Matthew McGloin).
Its current venue, The Cell, is certainly cramped quarters for this raucous entertainment with a hyper-energized premiere production that seems wanting to burst through its modest confines. A larger Off-Broadway house would be in order, and hopefully that can be done without losing the slapdash, off-the-cuff style that helps make Bastard Jones such a fun and sexy romp.