Fringical!: A Fringical!!

Get a bunch of people together who spend most of their waking hours going to shows and posting messages on theatre chat boards, add a few cocktails per person and tell them to write a musical. Chances are it will come out looking a lot like Fringical!: A Fringical!!. This musical lampoon by Eli Bolin (music), Sam Forman (book and lyrics) and Thomas Kail (book and direction) is nasty, vindictive, often childish and effin' hilarious.

Fringical! is not an affectionate spoof of the goings-on at the New York International Fringe Festival. Nope, they're out for blood. And they score some pretty good laughs along the way.

Narrated by police officer Walter the Bobbie and his grungy side-kick, a continually complaining rat puppet named Michael Reidel ("The police officer as narrator bit is so Fringe '98.") the opening number warns us in Urinetown-ish fashion,"It's not Arthur Miller / O'Neill or William Inge. / Let me take you downtown. / Welcome to the Fringe" and promises "Bad theatre done very cheaply."

In the world of Fringical!, The New York International Fringe Festival (It's always referred to by its full name and pronounced in verbal parentheses.) is a mission-less endeavor run mostly by 17-year-old interns who are just excited at having their first chance to stay up late at night. When a high-profile show backs out, the Fringers are panicked at the prospect of finding another one to take over its slot on short notice. ("There's not enough time! These plays take days to write!") Fortunately, Rosie O'Donnell (a screamingly over-the-top Patch Darragh) comes in to save the day. Sorta.

Through complications too numerous to get into, the one slot is given to both a young performance artist from Dallas (her name is Debbie) whose post-modern performance pieces where she screams at the audience for six hours are not appreciated in her home town, and to a Hollywood couple, one of whom has never heard of live theatre and can't quite grasp the concept of actors and audience in the same room.

The gag-infested book and lyrics are loaded with one-liners and plot twists concerning Karen Finley, Neil Labutte, BAM, the Olsen twins, Ben Brantley. Annie Sprinkle and just about any other remotely theatrical personality who can provide fodder for a cheap belly-laugh. At one point Hal Prince is told by a fan that he saw Merrily We Roll Along 63 times and the the director replies, "Ah, every preview."

Bolin's music is peppy and simple in a score consisting solely of enjoyable comedy songs. Jessica-Snow Wilson, as the bratty solo performer ("Collaboration is for rap music, not theatre.") takes full vocal and comedic advantage of the best material in a number about the romance of being an avant-guarde artist in Brooklyn. Anne Jacoby and Patrick Heusinger are wonderfully air-headed as the Hollywood duo and get a fun list song about theatrical couples such as "Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne / Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane." And Ryan Vaughn as a diabolical intern is deliciously hammy in his Frank Wildhorn inspired solo. (or maybe its Lloyd-Webber)

The current production is a reading staged mostly with the cast standing behind music stands, but director Kail keeps the quips coming fast and the performances sufficiently campy. Fringical!: A Fringical!! may often be a little obscure for some, but like a Forbidden Off-Off Broadway, its exuberance and silliness provides a solid of hour of laughs, even if you don't always understand why you're laughing.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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