Review: DEATH BECOMES HER at Cadillac Palace

You'll die from laughter at this production running through June 2

By: May. 20, 2024
Review: DEATH BECOMES HER at Cadillac Palace
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Move over Witches of Oz. There’s a new pair of Broadway-Bound divas looking to stage a wicked fight for supremacy eight shows a week. And you better best believe the stage becomes her, er, them.

Based on director Robert Zemeckis’ cult-classic 1992 dark comedy, DEATH BECOMES HER, the musical is a laugh-out-loud, two and a half hour cat fight that’s equal parts “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and any given episode of the old night time soap opera “Dynasty.”

Megan Hilty and Jennifer Simard play frenemies Madeline Ashton and Helen Sharp. Ashton is an egotistical, bombastic diva of stage and film, Sharp is her wallflower college friend who is desperate to emerge out from Ashton’s shadows.

At separate times, they both happen upon the mysterious Viola Van Horn (Michelle Williams) who offers each the chance for immortal youth and beauty.

Hilty and Simard are equally matched here vocally with Simard only coming out slightly ahead because her character arc –from milquetoast hanger-on to unhinged psycho tethered to reality only by her need for revenge- is much broader than that of Hilty’s character, who begins the show as an ego-centric and self-absorbed actress and ends  much the same albeint only after a slight detour of a 10-year career drought that leads her to take up Van Horn on her offer.

Which leads to the one thing that has always bothered me about the character’s motivation in the film as well. Van Horn’s offer comes with an expiration date. Once taken, Ashton can only appear in the public eye for a total of 10 additional years before she must retreat (otherwise someone is assuredly going to catch on to the magical secret). Ashton is there to prolong her career. Whether it be over now (as it is when she runs to her for a solution) or in 10 years from now, the result is the same. She is going to have to retreat from the spotlight regardless if she takes the potion. Ashton is simply too vain to realize this, I guess.

Christopher Sieber plays Ernest Menville, Sharp’s equally boring fiancé that Ashton eventually steals from Sharp (setting the events of the show in motion). It was interesting to see how his character changes once in the clutches of the diva Ashton. His motivation here is a bit better than in the original film as he recognizes what he has given up to be with Ashton (and it does not just include leaving Sharp for her).

Williams, as the mysterious Viola Van Horn, is equal parts Earth Kitt and a KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN-era Chita Rivera. Her character could be a bit more spooky and menacing. The right nips and tucks to her character are needed to elevate the role to match the intensity of her voice (there is no room for doubt here; Williams is slaying it vocally).

Ensemble members Josh Lamon and Taurean Everett both deserve a shout out as, respectively, Stefan, Ashton’s much put-out and put-upon personal assistant and Van Horn’s hench person. Both rightfully earn laughs in their roles and both make a big impact with their little stage time without shifting focus from where it needs to be.  

Also, a shout out to Hilty's unidentified stunt double. While the film employed state of the art special effects, the show is grounded in traditional stage effects and the body double's body contortion in one scene was amazing (applause to whoever you are). 

The script by Marco Pennette (who was a show runner on TV’s “Ugly Betty”) features one savage one-liner and an equally vicious retort after another. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the creative team certainly knows who their target audience is based on one particular lyric early in the show (I won’t ruin it here).

The music by Julia Mattison and Noel Carey (who both also contributed lyrics as well) recall the symphonic grandeur of Alan Silvestri’s film score. There are notes and nods to the film score throughout with one direct callback to the film that is used in a funny and surprising way (again, no spoilers here).

The pair’s lyrics are also very, very witty. At times, the lyrics come rapid fire with barely enough time to register them initially.  You need a second (or third) viewing to appreciate them. “If You Want Perfection,” the opening number sung by Williams, is a particular standout. It succeeds in setting the gothic tone and reminds one of the main theme from the musical KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN. As Williams sings her heart out with a powerful voice reminiscent of a young Shirley Bassey, she urges you “if you want perfection/take a sip and drink it in” and you will definitely find yourself wanting to return to Mattison and Carey’s caldron to do just that.  

Director and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who directed last December’s EMMET OTTER’S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS, does a 180-degree turn here, pivoting from wholesome family entertainment to dark, gothic comedy. His choreography for this show includes traditional Broadway tap as well as sultry Fosse-esque movement. And, much like his previous show, there are also very funny puppets that appear unexpectedly at one point late in the second act (again, no spoilers here, but their appearance makes sense).

The costumes by Paul Tazwell recall a glamourous, old Hollywood style befitting of the production.  Hilty’s quick change costumes in the shows second number alone recall Liza Minelli’s signature red-sequined jacket and pant suit, Julie Andrew’s “Victor/Victoria” stage garb and Judy Garland’s signature blue gingham dress from “The Wizard of Oz”.  

Review: DEATH BECOMES HER at Cadillac Palace Williams’ witch/angel of death has the best outfits, of course. From your first glimpse of her in a sparkling, black and silver number with a hood like a cobra ready to strike to her final reveal, it should be enough to earn Tazewell a Tony nom for best costumes next year.

Some work is needed before the Broadway opening, though. Given the show features two antagonists who cannot die (and are thus, are without end,) the show fizzles out. “There is No Finale” (the show’s final number) is a bit too on the nose. It’s a funny sentiment, but it leaves you wishing for something bigger and grander.  

DEATH BECOMES HER plays at the Cadillac Palace through June 2 and will open on Broadway in the fall.


Comments

Ensemble1715878594 on 5/21/2024

I saw it and it was a fast moving Broadway show.  Costumes are wonderful.  It made me want to see the movie and I did, but didn't "get" it.  I think it was just too dark for me and the subject of aging and never dying wasn't for me.  However, back to the show.  The musical numbers explain everything that happens.  And yes, I agree Williams was a total surprise with that VOICE (where did it come from?) but she needed more sass and venom.  the two female leads were spectacular.  And that fall down the staircase was unbelievable!  Unbelievable! Esp. for the stage.




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