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BWW Reviews: THE BOY IN THE BATHROOM Is a Touching Musical at Spirit of Broadway

The Boy in the Bathroom
Book & Lyrics by Michael Lluberes
Music & Additional Lyrics by Joe Maloney
Directed by Brett A. Bernardini
Running at The Spirit of Broadway Theater
24 Chestnut Street, Norwich, CT through February 5

In provincial Connecticut, a drive to Norwich from Greater Hartford or New Haven may seem like a schlep, but really it is less than an hour.  Aside from stunning Victorian architecture worth taking in and some noteworthy restaurants, Norwich is well worth a visit for The Spirit of Broadway Theater.  Nestled in a fabulously retro-fitted historic building, the intimate space seating less than 80 people is home to some of the most progressive programming in the state.  Founding Artistic Director Brett A. Bernardini has dedicated his theater to the development of new and rarely-produced musicals.  He kicks off the company’s 15th Anniversary season with The Boy in the Bathroom.

Running only through February 5th, one must you-know-what or get off the pot with only one week remaining to The Boy in the Bathroom’s run.  This quirky musical is quite simply the finest production I have seen at The Spirit of Broadway and the most compelling piece of theater I have seen in Connecticut in 2012.  Granted, the year is only a month old, but I have seen over a half-dozen productions at major regionals, community theaters and touring houses.

A kindred spirit to Broadway’s recent Tony-winning Next to Normal, this family drama centers on a mother and son afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  David, the 25-year old son, has locked himself into the bathroom, refusing to come out for over a year.  He has carefully constructed a germ-free home for himself, scribbling a manifesto of sorts on toilet paper, and subsisting on servings of food thin enough to be slid under the bathroom door by his mother, Pam.

Pam enables David’s anxieties and has accepted this arrangement.  She can keep tabs on her son while building her world around his OCD and her need to clean her house every day.  When Pam suffers a broken hip, she must open her home to an interloping twenty-something slacker named Julie. 

While Pam and David are content to live in their respective claustrophobic spheres, Julie chafes against the confines of her humdrum life in Michigan.   Acting as Pam’s housekeeper/caregiver, Julie slowly insinuates herself into the hermetic existence of David, communicating and playing games with him on the opposite side of the bathroom door.  Of course, the big question is whether this exterior force will tempt David to cross the threshold of the potty and destroy Pam’s carefully constructed universe.

 Actor Corrado Alicata delivers a knockout performance as the boy in the sanitary bubble.  Blessed with a terrific voice that fits the complicated score to a T, Alicata mesmerizes with a thoroughly committed portrait of a fractured mind.  It is hard to give fitting tribute to the transformation he undergoes, but literally you can see David’s anxieties from garbled head to fidgety toe.  Anne Fowler plays Julie and proves to be a perfect strong-willed foil to Alicata.  She possesses a wonderful sense of comic timing and a powerful music theater voice that at times proves overwhelming in the tiny space. 

Completing the cast is Shawn Rucker, a familiar face to Spirit of Broadway audiences.  As the conflicted and accommodating Pam, she delves deep into the abandonment and body-image issues that afflict the character.  The only false notes in her performance come with a lack of humor that could be invested in some of her scenes, particularly the musical number that finds her shopping for thin foods that she can slide under the bathroom door.

Director Bernardini uses a soft touch and effectively displays affection for his tricky charges.  The score, with lyrics by Michael Lluberes and Joe Maloney who also composes the music, is complex and defies easy hum-ability.  Although melodic, the musical avoids pat song-making, instead investing the drama with an equally potent book. 

The set, designed by Mike Billings, features a wonderfully detailed bathroom juxtaposed against an otherwise barren home.  The lighting by Chad LeFebvre is appropriately varied, vacillating from brightly lit sequences in David’s makeshift home to a moody kitchen setting for Pam’s musical breakdown as she literally stuffs her face with cake.  The piece is scored solely for piano and Dan Brandl (hidden behind a black scrim) handles the music beautifully.

With only three actors and a piano, this musical deserves to become a staple Off-Broadway and at regional theaters around the country.  Although it is a challenging show, a trip to Norwich is very much in order before The Boy in the Bathroom goes down the drain this Sunday.

Photo of Shawn Rucker and Corrado Alicata by Chad LeFebvre.

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