BWW Review: THIS IS LOLA Leaves Us Lost at Joe's Pub
Early in the show "This Is Lola" the titular character says to the audience "In case you all haven't read my Wikipedia page, my name is Lola."
If you read the Wikipedia page for Lola Falana, you would certainly know more about the legendary First Lady of Las Vegas than you would have learned at This is Lola. Not really a play and not really a cabaret, This Is Lola is probably best described as a cruise ship show, maybe an amusement park entertainment, which is sad because there is a good idea here. Lola Falana, sadly mostly forgotten these days, was an important part of show business history, a huge star, and a groundbreaker. She deserves to be remembered, she deserves to be tributed. The mere fact that Joe's Pub was almost completely sold out last night proves that there is still an interest in the life and work of Lola Falana.
So let's write a show about Lola Falana.
This Is Lola is not a show about Lola Falana.
The script to This Is Lola is credited to S. Morris and Dicey. Why there are two writers on the show is a bit baffling, since there is no real theatrical structure to the piece, to say nothing of the lamentable lack of storyline. If one were to take all of the dialogue from This Is Lola and set it aside with no music or dancing, it is quite entirely possible one would end up with about twelve minutes of play. In those twelve minutes, the audience learns that Lola Falana was discovered by Sammy Davis jr., she had a relationship with Sammy Davis jr., she broke up with Sammy Davis jr., and she found god. Oh, there is also a lot of talk about money. The lead character in This Is Lola places a great deal of importance on the money she made, the lifestyle she had - there is, in fact, so much emphasis placed on money in the show This Is Lola, that it might lead one to question Ms. Falana's values in real life. It is an unfortunate choice for the writers of the script to make, as people truly interested in Ms. Falana would, surely, rather learn about her than her bank account.
There is no credit for the score because none of the music in This Is Lola is original music. Whether Lola Falana sang any of the songs used to represent her life in This Is Lola is a mystery, though searches on Youtube and Google turned up no evidence that any of the music used in the 40-minute show has any association with Lola Falana. That is not to say that the music in This Is Lola is not enjoyable because Dionne Figgins, the actress tasked with playing Ms. Falana, is a heck of a good singer and dancer. If there is anything about This Is Lola to enjoy, it is the singing and dancing performed by Ms. Figgins and her male terpsichoreans, Devin Roberts and Julian Alvarez, all of whom acquit themselves masterfully as musical theater performers. The threesome commits fully and skillfully to the choreography by Brian Harlan Brooks, providing dancing that is lively, sexy, and fun. The direction by Brian Harlan Brooks is less detail-oriented and suffers by comparison, but even the most skilled director might have trouble working with so thin a script as that provided by the authors of This Is Lola. To his credit, Mr. Brooks does everything he can with what he has been given.
As Lola Falana, Dionne Figgins does the same as Mr. Brooks -- she does everything she can. Her singing and dancing talents are not to be denied. Ms. Figgins brought her A-game to her musical performances in This Is Lola, displaying a powerful voice, and the sass and attitude to put songs like "Love Hangover" and "I Gotcha" over in the best and most entertaining light, though the presence in the show of "I've Never Been to Me" and "Corner of the Sky" remains a mystery, as the script only vaguely suggests that Lola Falana was looking for something new. It's a rather clumsy attempt, made more so by a commitment to god and the church, leading the crowd at Joe's Pub to a Sunday night church singalong. Aside from the wonderfully executed musical numbers, though, Ms. Figgins operates under a handicap of having been directed to speak every line as though she were giving a Learning Annex class on how to talk like a diva. Every single line seemed to come from a place of snobbish superiority and an attempt at being fierce. Lola Falana didn't have to attempt to be fierce, she was fierce, and when she spoke she was often soft-spoken, usually casual, and always approachable, none of which were qualities Ms. Figgins brought to the character she plays in This Is Lola.
Perhaps the most damaging drawback to This Is Lola is that there is no Lola Falana. The complete lack of a story that recounted any aspect of Lola Falana's life or personality, combined with a collection of songs without association to Ms. Falana's artistry leaves one wondering who the show was about. It would perhaps have been better to call the evening "This Is Dionne" and let the gifted and lovely Ms. Figgins just tell her own story and sing her own songs. It would, certainly, have been more relatable and more enjoyable than "This Is Lola."
Photos by Stephen Mosher