BWW Reviews: Absurdist Satire Meets Musical Comedy in RED EYE OF LOVE
In another theatrical era, a pair of crackerjack musical comedy clowns like Alli Mauzey and Josh Grisetti would be introducing inspired novelty songs by the likes of Porter and Berlin on numerous Broadway opening nights. In this era, their charismatic talents are currently on display in a more modest Off-Broadway venue.
The pocket-sized merriment, Red Eye of Love, is a daffy, enjoyable lark that's a throwback to the times when stars with big personalities were showcased in big musicals that reveled in their vaguely satirical silliness to get from song to song. Certainly the first act's Ziegfeld-like meat market pageant, featuring tap dancing cows ("Our heifers have to be hoofers!"), a pig ballerina and strip-teasing racks of lamb would fit nicely into the days when Anything Goes was considered to be highbrow social commentary.
Originally a 1961 Off-Broadway play by Arnold Weinstein, its transformation to the musical stage was an unusual one. Weinstein and John Wulp, who won an Obie Award for directing the play, collaborated on the book and lyrics and Jan Warner composed a musically ambitious and demanding score. Weinstein passed away in 2005, and, after decades without any takers to produce the show, Wulp decided last year to drop Warner's contribution and recruited Sam Davis to compose new music to the existing text in order to bring out the musical comedy spirit of the piece.
Played out in front of onstage twin grand pianos, the story concerns Selma Chargesse (Mauzey) a simple girl with expensive taste who's romantically torn between Wilmer Flange (Grisetti), a sweet, ambitious oddball who dreams of manufacturing the first dolls that can get sick and die and O.O. Martinas (a hearty Kevin Pariseau), a wealthy meat merchant with an ever-expanding department store packed with every known variety of slaughtered protein. It's an absurdist skewering of the old rich vs. poor love triangle.
Mauzey plays the romantically torn lass with a hilarious mixture of deadpan naïveté and sophomoric sophistication. She vamps through intentionally unsexy lyrics like, "Want to spank a flank /Or yank a shank?", gets all torchy with the title song's mock-dramatics and is divinely sweet singing and dancing her way into puppy love.
Grisetti's knack for getting laughs out of awkwardness is in fine form as the charming lug who becomes creepily maniacal in his thirst for the American dream.
Under Ted Sperling's fine direction, the tone of the musical begins with robust George M. Cohan type enthusiasm before evolving into a madcap burlesque. The lyrics are clever in their frequently clunky simplicity ("Red eye of love. / Who can explain the how and why of love?"), which comes off as funny in the show's satirical context.
The hard-working ensemble members (Dylan Boyd, Katie Chung, Daniel Lynn Evans, Tracie Franklin, Katie Hagen, Daniel May and Sam Tanabe) all do spiffy work in their featured roles and execute show-bizzy choreography by Lainie Sakakura and Alex Sanchez with gusto.
Check your brain at the door and have a swell time.