BWW Review: In New Don't Tell Mama Show, Lennie Watts' SHAMELESS Auditioning For Musical Theater Roles Is Solid But Doesn't Completely Score
How, I wondered, would Lennie Watts follow his ballsy, 2013 MAC award-winning show, Bloody Bloody Lennie Watts!? Apparently by offering another rambunctious, personal evening, this one straddling the worlds of cabaret and theater. Self-described as "the most shameless, self aggrandizing show cabaret has ever seen" (a moot point) and "an extended audition" (not moot), the piece is custom tailored and beautifully put together, but ultimately achieves mixed results.
Monday night was the third performance of a four-show Don't Tell Mama run of Watts' new show Shameless (the next one is on 10/19), directed by Richard Sabellico, who hired Watts for his first theater role after seeing him perform in cabaret. After a number of jobs, however, Watts went back to clubs "and my theater career sunk like The Titanic." Shameless features songs and monologue excerpts from characters Watts feels he could play and one, Robert, from Jason Robert Brown's The Bridges of Madison County, the artist admits would require "a director on crack." Cynicism is wry, off-the-cuff remarks to audience response are sharp and funny.
Spot-lit at a table in the audience, Watts opens with "I hate theater. It's so disappointing . . ." What he loves is, of course, "A Musical" (Karey Kirkpatrick/Wayne Kirkpatrick from Something Rotten.) As we all know, "Everybody Wants To Do A Musical" (Richard Maltby Jr./Charles Strouse from Nick and Nora.) Here, the artist dances. The subdued razzamatazz really works. In fact, every time he does a bit of stepping, offers apt gestures or facially embodies characters with whom he's clearly familiar, the show shines. Alas, too much is equally expressionless and forceful, too little animated or low key.
We hear a high volume, passionless version of Herod's song from Jesus Christ Superstar (Tim Rice/ Andrew Lloyd Webber); a very funny monologue from David Sedaris's 'Santaland Diaries' delivered in a fabulous elf cap; and a gothic arrangement of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's "Mack the Knife" from The Threepenny Opera, which is curiously interesting. Music Director Stephen Ray Watkins, whose arrangement I assume this is, knows how to create lush as well as light, though he's rarely given opportunity at the latter. "The Moon and Me" a sweet, soulful song by Uncle Fester, unfortunately arrives too big for its lyrics (The Adams Family -Andrew Lippa.)
Performing "A Little More Mascara" (La Cage aux Folles-Jerry Herman), replete with splendid props, Watts's face is immobile, leaching emotion, while during "You Can't Stop the Beat" (Hairspray--Mark Shaiman/Scott Whitman & Marc Shaiman), both visage and body infectiously participate. Go figure. You'd think these perfect fits would weigh in evenly. Watts has shown he can handle serious songs, yet Mascara lacked pride, resignation, and joy. "All this stuff," he indicates wigs, heels, make-up--"I already had it!" elicits warm laughter.
The thespian sells his last two poignant numbers, "I Don't Believe in Heroes Anymore" (3 Guys Naked From the Waist Down--Michael Rupert/Jerry Colker): We're fools if we can't see the fools/Who fooled us all before/ Except when I read books and dream/I don't believe in heroes . . . anymore . . . and his encore, "Mr. Cellophane," (Chicago--John Kander/Fred Ebb), which effectively begins from the back of the house and is finished sauntering sideways through the club's tables. Overall, Shameless is a well crafted piece but the execution falls short of Watts' previous efforts.