BWW Review: An actress lands the role of a lifetime (or does she?) in WAITING FOR JOHNNY DEPP at Teatro SEA
Rita Donatella is a struggling wannabe actress working in a science lab and donning the white coat. She's "analyzing feces inside a rat" and declares "I'm not loving that." Her agent calls and her dreams are finally realized. She's going to star in a movie with an A-list actor. Waiting For Johnny Depp is a semi-autobiographical musical comedy chronicling the perilous world of self-absorption and career angst.
Janet Cole Valdez and Deedee O'Malley wrote the book and lyrics with Bettie Ross collaborating with them on the score. At the start of this show, they inform us that the events may seem increasingly preposterous but they are true. The adventure presented is a rags to riches to rags tale of an actor's quest to land the role of a lifetime.
Rita is a plucky young woman who leaps before she looks. Thrilled that she booked the film, Rita quits her job and sings "Kiss My Ass." Uh-oh, there's not a contract yet. Egads, there's a change in the film's direction. Oh no, there's another twist contemplated for her character. Meanwhile her big $2,000 savings account is evaporating.
The trials and tribulations are a familiar jumble of Hollywood expectations for females. When told she needs to lose twenty pounds, Rita dives into Zumba and then informs us that "I'm injecting a pregnant woman's pee." Donna Vivino creates a strong impression early on as Rita banters with the audience in this one woman show. Frequently breaking the fourth wall was a smart choice. The candy scene was especially funny and gave the impression of a friend recreating (and embellishing) her personal journey for our entertainment and bemusement.
Things continue to head south for poor Rita. Lose the New York accent. "What are they TAWKING about?" More complications and adjustments. Thin morphs to voluptuous. A very feminine role becomes masculine. Driven Rita will do "Anything For My Craft." What about money? "Craigslist" is a song which spells out a solution.
One young man who answers an ad to buy her stuff falls for her. "Flowers From Phoenix" is the singular musical high point of this score. The clowning briefly pauses and a touching glimpse inside Rita's emotional core emerges. As the show progresses, the initial lunacy wears thin. Scenes such as the one with the Barbie doll might be conceptually amusing but they slow the story's momentum.
This solo performance is a marathon of costume and personality changes. Ms. Vivino is a game performer and keeps our interest throughout even when the material loses steam. She has quite a few cellphone conversations; some with recorded vocals. Many are with her kvetching mother who has typical, yet still funny, lines. This musical might benefit with the addition of a second performer physically playing her mother, the agent, the boyfriend and so on. The part could add hilarious camp to these silly, largely lightweight reminiscences. Even Johnny Depp could be impersonated to great effect.
Near the end of the play, there is a trauma and Rita will learn lessons about life and love. Three seconds after that happens, there is another quick turn of events. Rita's narcissism blooms and the sight is oddly unappealing. The story may be true but in a show like this one, we probably need to see more than momentary depth of character.
Waiting For Johnny Depp is part of the inaugural Rave Theater Festival. Featuring a diverse roster of new shows, the emphasis of this month long event is on quality of writing and creativity. While this musical was a quirky and fun idea, it was overlong with mostly average sounding tunes.