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Review Roundup: IOWA Opens Off-Broadway

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The Playwrights Horizons world premiere of IOWA, a new musical play written by Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist Jenny Schwartz (God's Ear, Somewhere Fun), music by Todd Almond (Stage Kiss at PH, Kansas City Choir Boy, The Tempest, On the Levee) and lyrics by Almond & Schwartz, opens tonight, April 13, 2015.

Directed by two-time Obie Award winner Ken Rus Schmoll (Red Dog Howls, Middletown, What Once We Felt; next season's Antlia Pneumatica at PH), the musical play will run through May 10.

The cast of IOWA features Cindy Cheung (The Great Immensity, Middletown, Speak Up Connie), April Matthis (On the Levee, The Sound and the Fury, Lear, Hollow Roots), Annie McNamara (GATZ; God's Ear; The Sound and the Fury; That Pretty, Pretty...; Blue Jasmine), Karyn Quackenbush (Annie Get Your Gun; Blood Brothers; Imaginary Friends; Love, Loss and What I Wore), Carolina Sanchez (2014 Westminster College of the Arts graduate in her New York debut), Lee Sellars (Talk Radio, West Side Story, A Time to Kill, The Alchemist), Jill Shackner (Landscape of the Body, LES MISERABLES) and Kolette Tetlow (Once).

Mom (Quackenbush) found her soul-mate on Facebook, and he (Sellars) lives in Iowa. So Becca (Shackner) says goodbye to her beloved math teacher (Sellars), bulimic best friend (Sanchez), neighborhood pony (Sellars) and her mildly deficient teenage life, and she follows her wayward mother to a new, uncharted beginning. But in this fanciful, absurdist and intoxicating musical play, nothing can prepare them for what they'll find.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Aiming for the endearingly zany, the new musical "Iowa" overshoots the runway, landing somewhere in the vicinity of complete inanity. This oppressively antic show, about the uneasy relationship between an introverted teenage girl and her excessively -- make that lunatically -- outgoing mother, plays like a series of songs, scenes and sketches with little connecting tissue...It's only a few minutes into "Iowa," which is directed at a choppy pace by Ken Rus Schmoll, that Ms. Schwartz's babbling dialogue, delivered at warp speed, begins to grate...the interchangeable gabble soon wears down any admiration you might have for Ms. Schwartz's frisky sense of language...The music of Mr. Almond...is gently melodic and occasionally recalls Aaron Copland, but it cannot really hold up under the strain of supporting lyrics mostly in the same frantically surreal mode...The performers embrace the musical's bonkers style in a go-for-broke manner that you have to admire, even though you may not enjoy it.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: The verbiage in Jenny Schwartz's Iowa flies at you like a murmuration of starlings. Each brief, witty line seems to have a life of its own, but the dialogue rushes by at such a pace that you hardly have time to process it in discrete parts; what registers are the patterns, and the clarity that sometimes flashes through their hypnotic swirl...Iowa's satirical cartoonishness is captured splendidly in Ken Rus Schmoll's staging, and the cast of eight sustains a remarkable tone of committed absurdism...Smart, off-angle pop art songs, by Schwartz and the excellent Todd Almond, add to the abundance of pleasures.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: "Iowa" is like spaghetti. Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks seems to be the approach in this abstract play with music. Unfortunately, little sticks...Schwartz's language lacks the poetry and potency, as well as the sharpness and focus, of her play "God's Ear." The intermittent songs are pleasant but unmemorable in this staging by director ken Rus Schmoll. One hundred minutes later, "Iowa" just seems weird for weirdness' sake.

Matthew Wexler, The Broadway Blog: As Becca's mom Sandy, Quackenbush dives in with a quirky, Julie Hagerty-like sensibility. High-pitched and wide-eyed, she -- along with the rest of the cast -- tackles the absurdist script at high voltage. Unfortunately, there's not a light bulb in the socket of this play. Regardless of their emotional investments, it simply doesn't light up...Where Iow@ loses steam is in its lack of musicality. Almond's score is dismally droll, dragging the show's pace through the mud and rarely offering the actors a heightened sense of emotion or deliverability to further the story. They give it a champion effort, though, and under Ken Rus Schmoll's direction are certainly all on the same page. Unfortunately none of these efforts can salvage a score in search of a melody nor a plot truncated by its own flailing appendages.

Check back for updates!

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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