Review: IT HAPPENED IN KEY WEST at Fulton Theatre

Fulton hosts this North American premiere.

By: Jan. 27, 2024
Review: IT HAPPENED IN KEY WEST at Fulton Theatre

Fulton Theatre hosted the North American premiere of the musical. It Happened in Key West on January 26th. It is the story of X-Ray technician, Carl Tanzler who finds the girl of his dreams, Elena.  There are only two small problems.  Elena has tuberculosis…and she is married.  Carl being the eternal optimist doesn’t let either of those small details get in the way of true love.  In fact, even the inevitable death of Elena is treated as a mere inconvenience. Carl (and her corpse) carry on through the second half of the show.

It is easier to explain what the show isn’t than to describe what it is.  It Happened in Key West is not a screwball comedy like Weekend at Bernie’s.  Yes, there is humor, but it is tempered with sincerity and romance.  The tone of the show also does not come across as especially creepy or morbid.  It is very matter of fact in its presentation, and does not seem exploitative nor particularly disturbing.

It Happened in Key West is first and foremost, a love story.  It explores the depths that people go to find and keep true love, and asks us what are we are willing to overlook in the process.

Travis Kent is remarkable in the lead role of Carl.  Looking a good bit like Sigmund Freud, Kent gives this character sincere dignity. His behavior never comes across as creepy, instead he has a confident demeanor which is carried across thoroughly in both dialogue and song.

The talented Shereen Pimentel is very engaging as Elena.  Pimentel is required to be sympathetic, yet slightly naïve, since it takes her a while to recognize and appreciate Carl’s deep feelings for her.  She plays a convincing corpse, which is a much harder skill than you might think!

The creative team for this show includes book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello, book and additional lyrics by Jason Huza, and book and concept by Jeremiah James.  The score was heavily influenced by Cuban music, including re-appearing troubadours who comment on the action. The score would benefit from more variety since many of the tunes had a similar tempo, tone and purpose.

This is a relatively modest show in scale.  Director, Rebecca Martinez doesn’t always utilize the entire depth of the Fulton stage.  This show might be a better choice for the theater’s fourth floor, instead.  A second directorial recommendation deals with pacing.  While the opening night runtime was about two and a half hours, there just didn’t seem to be enough story to justify this length, especially in the overextended act one.

In conclusion, It Happened in Key West is a diamond in the rough.  The show’s content and themes alone might scare off a large percentage of stereotypically older and more conservative, musical theater patrons.  However, for audience members who go into the show with an open mind and an open heart, they have the potential to see something new and exciting and thought provoking on the Fulton stage.  The show is playing now through February 11th.