MONSTERS! A MIDLIFE MUSICAL MELTDOWN Mirrors and Mimics Milestone Birthday
Monsters! A Midlife Musical Meltdown
Produced by The Regent Theatre, G.P. Productions, & Image Theater; Written by Gail Phaneuf, Music & Lyrics by Ernie Lijoi & Gail Phaneuf, Directed by Jerry Bisantz & Gail Phaneuf, Choreography by Christine MacInally, Musical Direction by John Kramer; Set Design, Ken Ross; Lighting Design, Michael Clark Wonson; Sound Design, Gail Phaneuf & Nathan Leigh; Stage Manager, Marc Ewart
CAST: Cheryl McMahon (Mother), Emily Browder Melville (Samantha), Patti Hathaway (Apathy), Zachary Gregus (Body), Jennifer Fogarty (Birthday Girl), Lisa Beausoleil (Fear)
Performances through March 10th at The Regent Theatre, 7 Medford Street, Arlington, MA. Box Office 781-646-4849 or www.regenttheatre.com
Monsters! A Midlife Musical Meltdown invites you to The Regent Theatre to attend Samantha’s 40th birthday party where the only other guests are the demons in her life, also known as Apathy, Fear, Body, and oh, yes, her mother. Crafted on the premise featured in the opening song that “Everybody’s Got Monsters,” Samantha’s meltdown is part cautionary tale, part wake-up call, and a fully enjoyable look at a milestone in life that we all must experience in one way or another. Regardless of which side of the divide you’re standing on, Monsters! gently pokes an elbow in your ribs, as if to say, “This is what awaits you!” or “Remember?”
Following the world premiere of the musical comedy in Boston in 2006, a pair of New York City readings, and a regional production at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, Maine, Gail Phaneuf (Playwright/Composer/Lyricist/Director) and Composer/Lyricist Ernie Lijoi have joined forces with Co-Director Jerry Bisantz of Image Theater to bring the singing and dancing monsters to life again in a re-imagined version on the Arlington stage. Monsters! is light and lively with a relatable story, musical numbers with clever lyrics and a good blend of styles, and a six-pack of endearing characters (even the demons, as they prefer to be called).
Emily Browder Melville (Samantha) is likable and sympathetic in the lead with a voice that seems totally natural for the role of the 40-year old stockbroker who is taking stock of her life and searching for an adventure that will shake things up. When Sam informs her mother (Cheryl McMahon) that she intends to quit her job and travel to Machu Picchu, the cynical response she gets dredges up all of her insecurities in the form of the three monsters, er, demons. McMahon is in fine voice and seems to enjoy her over-the-top performance as chief fear monger in her daughter’s life.
Apathy (Patti Hathaway) is the first demon to appear, playing to Sam’s natural inclination to travel the path of least resistance, especially since “you’ll eventually die” (“What’s the Point?”). She flops lazily on the couch while munching potato chips, more interested in watching reality television than helping Sam make any positive changes. Next to arrive is Fear (Lisa Beausoleil), a Kaye Ballard type, who dons a turban and peers into her Magic 8-ball to warn Sam of all the things that might befall her (“You Don’t Want to Know”) if she so much as steps out of her apartment, or answers the door, for that matter. Finally, Body (Zachary Gregus) sashays out of the closet to remind her of her body issues and poor clothing choices.
When a mysterious gift-wrapped package arrives at her door without a card, it becomes the metaphor for all of Sam’s anxieties and the Pandora’s box at the center of the story. Opening the second act, another surprise gift arrives in human form as the sexy, scantily-clad Birthday Girl (Jennifer Fogarty) bumps and grinds her way through “Happy Birthday Baby.” Although she is there as a hired stripper, the young woman happens to be a psychology student who thinks she can help Sam overcome her fears, if only she can identify them (“Phobias”). More effective than that, B.G. gets Sam to think about what she really wants to do with the second half of her life (“That’s What I Would Do”) and strive to create a balance between her desires and her demons (“You Need Us”).
Musical Direction by John Kramer and Choreography by Christine MacInally give the musical numbers vitality. The dancing is simple, but keeps everyone actively moving about the stage during the songs. The set design by Ken Ross reflects a compact Manhattan apartment, complete with a galley kitchen, an armoire in lieu of a closet, and bars on the window. Lighting Designer Michael Clark Wonson gets to have some fun with the apartment’s occasional blackouts, and sound design duties are shared by Nathan Leigh and Phaneuf. Costume design by the multi-talented Fogarty includes a garish conglomeration of articles of clothing for Fear, a comfortable nightshirt for Apathy to lounge around in, and Body sports a stylish blazer and scarf.
The overriding feelings experienced in Monsters! A Midlife Musical Meltdown are the joy and enthusiasm of the talented cast. One after another, their vocals and mannerisms surprise and delight, and they are cohesive as an ensemble, generating some beautiful harmonies mixed in with the humor. Phaneuf and Bisantz set a good pace and make sure that all of the laugh lines can be appreciated. If Phaneuf and Lijoi set out to create an all-around, feel-good musical that can be enjoyed by all ages, they have succeeded. Monsters! is a charmer and a step in the right direction for regional theater.
Photo credit: Mak Kramer Photography (Zachary Gregus, Patti Hathaway, Lisa Beausoleil, Jennifer Fogarty, Emily Browder Melville, Cheryl McMahon - in portrait)