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Review - The Memory Show

At separate moments early on in Sara Cooper (book/lyrics) and Zach Redler's (music) ambitious and noteworthy The Memory Show, each of the musical's two characters refers to herself as being a funny person while acknowledging that funny people are often the sad ones.

Both instances are certainly believable because the cast of Transport Group's splendid new production consists of two actresses known for getting laughs, Leslie Kritzer and Catherine Cox. So the story of a 31-year-old single woman who moves in with her Alzheimer's stricken mother is played for a lot of humor - the Brooklyn Jewish kind - which serves as a coping mechanism for the pair and also eases the audience into the show's unconventional musical theatre subject matter.

As suggested by the title, each character, referred to simply as "mother" and "daughter," is putting on a bit of a show for the audience, whose presence they do acknowledge. Though the action takes place with the two of them in mother's living room (The upstage wall of Brian Prather's set is covered with picture frames, some filled, some empty and some that empty as more of her memories disappear.) most of the songs are solos directed to the viewers where they express their emotions about their past relationship and what it has developed into.

Two very strong solos begin the evening. First Cox reacts to a doctor's question, "Who's the President of the United States?" by complaining about what a ridiculous (Actually, the word she uses is fakakta.) question it is. She keeps expressing her annoyance until finally confessing that she doesn't know. Kritzer follows with "Single Jewish Female Seeks Male," a funny, character-driven song that goes beyond its familiar observations about Internet dating and expresses her hesitancy to become her mother's caregiver, given their uneasy past.

Cooper's lyrics tend to dominate the score, with Redler's music, enhanced by gentle chamber orchestrations by Lynne Shankel, providing a conversational tone. I daresay few musical theatre writers would come up with a quirky number like "You and Me, Toilet," where the daughter describes having to clean up after someone who doesn't always remember how to perform a certain bodily function neatly. (Fortunately, the lyric doesn't go into too much detail.) But when the realization of what the future has in store becomes too serious to laugh at, mother expresses her fears in the discomforting "I'm Unlovable" and the daughter sees how she has inevitably developed in the beautiful ballad "Apple and Tree."

Under Joe Calarco's direction, both give dynamic and detailed performances without overshadowing the delicacy of the relationship portrayed. With so little dialogue and interaction between the two characters, The Memory Show may not provide enough of the emotional impact the situation is capable of emitting, though there are plenty of lovely and heart-tugging moments. And the exemplary work of Cox and Kritzer certainly elevate the evening into a memorable night.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Catherine Cox; Bottom: Leslie Kritzer.

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Quite appropriately, Jekyll and Hyde is one of the most polarizing musicals ever to hit New York. Despite running well over three and half years in its initial 1997 Broadway run, Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's pop rock adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic horror tale of a young scientist who uses himself as the guinea pig in an experiment to separate the good and evil in man and then proceeds to murder those who called him mad is regularly mocked as a prime example of Broadway ineptitude. And yet the show maintains a loyal following of fans that are no doubt thrilled at its return.

At the performance I attended of director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun's new mounting, a road company that's making a stop at the Marquis, the majority of the audience seemed to be offering polite levels of applause while pockets of fans throughout the theatre cheered enthusiastically. (To be fair, at curtain calls there was the obligatory Broadway standing ovation for the stars.)

And while I'm not denying the possibility that someone can be a connoisseur of the finer details of Lerner and Loewe classics and Cole Porter obscurities and also have a great affinity for the show that Gerard Alessandrini called, "for people who find Andrew Lloyd Webber's music too complicated," my completely unscientific experience indicates that Jekyll and Hyde is one of those musicals that gathers much of its following from people who typically don't go to musicals on a regular basis.

Its pre-Broadway popularity was nurtured in a premiere production in Houston, a national tour and two popular concept albums featuring high-belting power ballads with lyrics that don't seem overly concerned with being specific to characters and situations, let alone making a good deal of sense. ("This is the moment. / This is the time / When the momentum and the moment are in rhyme.) Aside from its original Broadway star, the very fine theatre singer/actor Robert Cuccioli, Jekyll and Hyde tends to be cast with performers better known for vocal gymnastics and displays of passion - motivated or not - than detailed lyric interpretation.

Calhoun's competent mounting shouldn't change anyone's mind about the piece. Set and costume designer Tobin Ost and lighting designer Jeff Croiter team up to give the stage a look resembling a night out at one of those unmarked Brooklyn clubs on its weekly Victorian Goth night. In the title roles, Constantine Maroulis comes off as a skinny hipster dude a little too in touch with his feelings. Wildhorn's music starts emotionally big and keeps the star at that level, like he's singing an evening of 11 o'clock numbers, and Maroulis admirably performs his assignment of singing his face off all night. The one let down is that the musical's (Dare I say it?) iconic number, "Confrontation," where the actor traditionally tosses his hair from side to side as good and evil... confront... each other, is instead staged with Maroulis remaining as Jekyll as the good doctor's portrait is transformed through video and recorded vocals into Hyde.

By comparison, the musical's leading lady role - Lucy, the singing prostitute - is more of a supporting part. Deborah Cox benefits from getting to sing some of the score's prettier melodies, but what can you really accomplish with lyrics like, "A new dream. / I have one I know that very few dream. / I would like to see that overdue dream..." Teal Wicks also puts in a game effort as the sweet Emma, who certainly deserves a prize as the world's most understanding fiancé.

The script has been trimmed and the score has been revised with cuts and additions. Lucy's new nightclub number, "Bring On The Men," attempts to display the character as more of an erotic performer, but the intended sexiness of the production is broadly telegraphed instead of internally developed and falls miserably flat. Much of the time, Calhoun stages numbers with the "stand there and sing" technique, making the musical appear more as a concert than any attempt at drama.

And that's probably how Jekyll and Hyde works best. Neither chilling, romantic nor even campy, the thrills of the show lie more in whatever excitement the performers can manufacture by singing loud and high. And if that's your thing, then by all means help yourself to, as Bricusse puts it, "all the dreaming, scheming and screaming."

Photos by Chris Bennion: Top: Constantine Maroulis; Bottom: Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox.

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