NYMF Notes: Part I

Unlock'd

Sam Carner (book and lyrics) and Derek Gregor (music) have come up with a real charmer in adapting Alexander Pope's comical poem The Rape Of The Lock into a clever little musical full of sparkling wit, sumptuous melodies and graced with an engaging company directed with a high humor by Igor goldin.

Set in 1700's Hampton Court, the story concerns the romantically frustrated Clarissa (Jackie Burns), who finds it terrible unfair that her beautiful and air-headed half sister Belinda (Sarah Jane Everman) effortlessly charms every man who lays eyes on her because of her gorgeous hair.  One particular lock of hair, which she calls Beatrice, is so especially beauteous she even sings of its wonders.  Romantic complications between the two ladies and the dashing Baron Windsorloch (Jim Weitzer) and his geeky brother Edwin (Christopher Gunn) are of major concern to three ethereal virginal sylphs (Alison Cimmet, Maria Couch, and Mary Catherine McDonald) who are in the midst of their own flirtations with a trio of gnomes (William Thomas Evans, Darryl Winslow and Christopher Totten).

Though set in the baroque period, with the keyboard frequently set at "harpsichord," the score easily glides from Bach-ish pop to comic operetta to traditional showtune.  Rhyming couplets abound, sung as well as spoken, as well as grandly romantic emotions played by a funny and gorgeously singing ensemble.  Everman stands out for both her stunning, lilting soprano and crack comic delivery as does Totten as a sweet, softspoken gnome who wishes to heroically prove his love.

Goldin's staging is daffy and spirited, while Colleen Kesterson's period costumes add a dash of elegance.  Unlock'd is simply delightful.

The Brain From Planet X

Bruce Kimmel (book, score and direction) and David Wechter's (book) musical may be a spoof of 1950's low-budget sci-fi flicks, but its roots are solidly embedded in musical comedy.  From the borscht belt jokes to the wildly comic performances to the spiffy show-biz score, pretty tap-dancing showgirls and buff showboys, The Brain From Planet X struts its considerable assets in an unapologetic quest to entertain.  And entertain it does.  I laughed, I tapped my toes, I laughed some more and had a swell time.

Looking a little like Phil Silvers in a straightjacket, the hilariously diabolical Barry Pearl wears an enormous brain headdress and big black glasses as the title character, determined to conquer earth by sapping us of our emotions and love for the American suburban way.  Alet Taylor, as fellow alien Yoni (decked out like an intergalactic Ann-Margret), stops the show dead with her vamp number "I Need An Earthman."  Her Planet X associate, Zubrick (Cason Murphy) is a bit of a tight-ass, but once he discovers Earth's greatest cultural achievement, musical theatre, he becomes a dancing fool and exuberantly leads the chorus in a smashing number called "The Brain Tap."  (The night I attended there were some difficulties with the microphones, but Murphy was loud and clearly heard singing over a multitude of tapping feet.)

Back on Earth, General Mills of the United States Army (a bellowing Richard Pruitt), assisted by Private Partz (Chad Harlow, who has no lines but whose subtle reactions are a scream) recruit part-time inventor Fred Bunson (a nicely earnest Rob Evans) to help save the planet.  But it may be too late to save Fred's wife, Joyce (Amy Bodnar, who continually flashes an eerily toothy smile).  Meanwhile, Merrill Grant is a comical whirlwind as libido-charged teenager Donna Bunson, who can belt out the catchy "Good Girl/Bad Girl" while athletically flinging herself all over her beat poet boyfriend (Paul Downs Colaizzo).

Kimmel's direction is in the classic George Abbott style of faster, louder, funnier, with jokes ranging from sly and satirical (one of Fred's inventions is a device to help 1950's teenagers develop a taste for tobacco) to the lowest of wordplay ("You wouldn't know the Earth from Uranus.").  Adam Cates' flashy choreography and Jessa-Raye Court's colorful costumes add to the fun, making The Brain From Planet X a terrific time for tired businessmen, matinee ladies and over-caffeinated kids alike.

Gemini, the Musical

Albert Innaurato's 1977 Broadway comedy Gemini may not be the first one that comes to mind when thinking of plays that could be adapted into musicals, but then there was once a time when Broadway's greatest musical theatre talent thought Pygmalion could never sing.  Unfortunately, Innaurato and composer/lyricist Charles Gilbert never get a handle on what is musical about their story of a South Philadelphia college boy visiting his blue-collar Italian dad and his colorful neighbors at a time when he's troubled by his declining interest in his girlfriend and his increasing fascination with her brother.  While there are still some good laughs from the original material and some lively tunes and bright musical moments, the lightweight lyrics and questionable choices of song moments do little to propel the story, keeping the evening from being anywhere near the compelling musical about family and acceptance that it was most likely intended to be.

The original Gemini played on Broadway for a healthy four years and despite the fact that it's a very funny play, some credit for its long run must go to its enormously successful television commercial which featured the play's zany older characters and helped make the lines, "Am I weird?  Nah!," "Take human bites!," and "I'm not hungry.  I'll just pick" familiar catchphrases, even to non-theatre-goers.  But the musical puts more focus on the triangle between young Francis (Dan Micciche) and his wealthier college friends Judith (Kirsten Bracken) and Randy (Ryan Reid).  Although closets were still tightly shut in 1973, when the story takes place, and there was little in the way of support groups or information for a young man questioning his sexuality, the authors never effectively address the seriousness of the issues facing Francis.  His homosexuality seems defined by his obsession with Maria Callas, which at least inspires a cute number where Judith tries to seduce him with a song that musically quotes Bizet's Carmen.

Joel Blum livens things up as Francis' gregarious father, Fran ("Dagos chase women.  That's what we were born to do."), but his character isn't real enough to support the intended drama when he discovers his son's secret.  As his feisty neighbor, Bunny ("I've been on my knees in front of a lot of men but not one of them been a priest."), Linda Hart squeezes whatever laughs are possible out of her superfluous and uninspired songs.  Bethe Austin, as Fran's widowed girlfriend Lucille, gets the show's best number, a sweet ballad about "Good People," but songs about trolleys (sung by Jonathan Kay as Bunny's emotionally stunted son, Hershel), concrete ("Concrete/It keeps a backyard neat," sings Fran) and "The Hunk Who's Got The Funk" are among the many moments where Gemini's score stops any momentum the book has gathered.

Photo (top) by Bruce Glikas: Sarah Jane Everman and Jackie Burns in Unlock'd; (middle, uncredited): Alet Taylor and Cason Murphy in The Brian From Planet X; (bottom) by Gerry Goodstein: Kirsten Bracken, Joel Blum and Linda Hart in Gemini, the Musical


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