Review: PF&P's Smart, Sassy FLIES! THE MUSICAL!
You were probably forced to read the book Lord of the Flies in high school, but you'll want to see FLIES! THE MUSICAL!, a witty musical parody of it. You'll have more laughs than you did reading the book, trust me.
Essentially a show within a show, the plot concerns kids from the Lovely Valley Performing Arts Magnet High School rehearsing an unauthorized, co-ed musical production of William Golding's classic novel in an isolated forest preserve in the off-season.
Rick (Mario Aivarzian) is the well-liked, charismatic leader of the group. Pigtails (Missy Wise) is the all-knowing bookworm (the only one, it turns out, who has actually read the source material). Jeff Meyer is the jock Jake, Jayla Williams-Craig is his cheerleader girlfriend Rhonda. Joey Fontanetta and Ryan Armstrong play Young'un 1 & 2, two theater queens. Nicky Mendelsohn and Christea Parent play the "outsiders" of the group as Stephen the vegetarian and Shy Girl (who is apparently so shy, no one knows her name).
In an effort to "trust the process" and perhaps go the method-acting route, the kids also give up their cell phones and when Rhonda's mom fails to return after several hours, the theater troupe is left to begin fending for themselves much like the kids in the novel.
Perhaps understandably, the premise takes a bit to set up. Under the direction of Michael Driscoll, the first 10 minutes of the show sometimes drag. Playwright/lyricist Larry Todd Cousineau has crafted a witty send up of both the book and Broadway musicals. Once the show gets going, your investment in time pays off handsomely in laughs.
Cousineau's surprisingly sophisticated script essentially sets up three worlds: the musical based on the book, a musical based on the reality of the show and reality itself (with characters breaking the fourth wall). Aivazian, Menderlsohn, Parent and Wise all seem to inhabit each of these worlds with distinct and subtle differences in characterization and performance.
We don't have a good understanding of why either Meyer's jock Jake or Williams-Craig's cheerleader Rhonda are even involved with the musical, much less attending a performing arts school, though. Fontanetta and Armstrong's characters of Young'un 1 and 2 also don't ever seem to deviate from a place of camp caricature and probably could stand to be a bit more grounded.
Like many musical parodies, the music by Cindy O'Connor features a pastiche of Broadway styles. "Conch'a Hear It?" is a Caribbean ditty that feels like it might have been cut from Disney's "The Little Mermaid" (And kudos to Cousineau for the Herculean task of using "conch" in a song). "We're Not Actually Twins," is reminiscent of "We Share Everything (from SIDE SHOW). It's a fine number (if not an overstatement of the obvious), but it doesn't feel like the immediate reprise of the song is particularly needed nor earned. "Eat Me,Stephen" is a play on "Feed Me, Seymour!" (from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS), but I couldn't help thinking of the Trash Heap from "Fraggle Rock" as the song essentially serves the plot point of the book in which an inanimate object dispenses wisdom/advice. Parent's performance of the 11th hour showstopped "Everyone's Inherently Good" is a great tap number with so many rapid fire references to other Broadway shows that it reminded me a bit of "A Musical" (from SOMETHING ROTTEN). Parent is terrific in the role, Wisconsin accent and all.
Things that felt wholly original to me included "The Passage of Time," a brilliant self-referential piece about the particular musical theater device of a song used to speed up time and plot points and the two huge songs given to Pigtails: the ominous "The Only One Who Sees" and the anthem-like "I Won't Be Left Out Again." Wise slays both with energy, emotion and heart.
Th scenic design by Sarah JHP Watkins and costumes by Paul Kim are top-notch. The voices under musical director JD Caudill blend really well (my only criticism is that the actors sometimes sing up to the ceiling when on the top tier of the set instead of down and out to the audience). Adam McAleavey's creative puppet design also deserves a shout out (I don't want to give too much of the surprise away).
FLIES! THE MUSICAL! deserves much buzz and praise.
FLIES! THE MUSICAL! runs thorugh June 10 at The Broadway at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway. Tickets $25. Call 773.857.0222 or www.pridefilmsandplays.com