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BWW Reviews: You Win Some, You Lose Some – THE SNUFF MUSICAL Premieres at Capital Fringe

I'm pretty much a sucker for original musicals and I am even more of a sucker for those kinds of shows that provide commentary on the state of musical theatre from an insider's perspective. Things like [title of show] really get me excited. I share all this to say that I really wanted to like Michael Martin's creation, The Snuff Musical, now being presented as part of DC's Capital Fringe Festival with direction by Derek T. Pickens.

As one enters the theatre selections from recent cast recordings of Hollywood movies turned Broadway musicals are playing. There's Ghost, Legally Blonde, Bring it On, and even the latest London import blockbuster Matilida. At this point, I know where the show is headed. As the cast emerges, and shortly thereafter pull out posters of such movie-turned-musicals - a slight copycat, I must say, from the much more creative [title of show] number "Monkeys and Playbills" - and sings a little ditty called "Best Possible Worst Kind of Show" (accompanied by musical director John-Michael d'Haviland), I really know where we're headed. It's a commentary on the fad of bringing popular - but hardly Oscar-worthy - to the stage. But there's a twist.

Frustrated writer Daniel (a charming Josh Kemper) and director/producer Joey Bortz (the charismatic Amanda Spellman) are looking for their next show. They find it in an unlikely place - a snuff film. A series of hijinks involving a 'Panamanian' (PJ Mitchell), a 'fresh off the bus' hyper actress who will stop at nothing to get what she wants (Leslie Vincent as Kelly Kincaid), and actor with a face and body that will make preteens squeal with glee (Andrew Morstein), and a frustrated actress seeking revenge (Shatera Hillyer) compromise the potential of getting the show - the worst kind of show - to Broadway.

Interesting idea, but has it been done before? Well, it depends on how you look at it. I will say the insider musical theatre jokes (and there are plenty) are hopelessly tired and slightly derivative of those that came before them. Still, it could all be campy fun especially given the snuff movie factor, but there's a problem. Michael Martin tries to do it all. Book writer, composer, lyricist? He fulfills all three roles or at least tries to. The book lacks a cohesive tone, the compositions are far from interesting (though "Another Boy Meets Girl" is slightly more catchy than the others), and while the lyrics are likely intentionally terrible at least to some degree, they had me rolling my eyes on more than one occasion - perhaps too many. Doing it all? Usually not an awesome idea. Take a look at the history of American musical theatre.

While I have to commend the cast for its enthusiasm during what felt like a really long night, there's one thing I like to hear in a musical. People singing on pitch. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but the entire cast - with the notable exception of Ms. Vincent who (although playing possibly the most grating character ever) stayed mostly on pitch while giving every singing moment her all with great comedic timing - veered off pitch too many times than is acceptable even in a Fringe production. Some made up for it somewhat with their acting - even given the not so great material - particularly Josh Kemper and Amanda Spellman, but others made me question as to why they even agreed to be in a musical. Sometimes it's hard to be a villain, but let's just say that PJ Mitchell (who perhaps had trouble hearing himself or was not particularly comfortable with the material...not really sure) was far from up to the challenge.

One has to give all involved credit for trying - musicals are tough - but this one really doesn't work, at least for this musical theatre junkie. Judging by the laughter around me, it might be someone's cup of tea, but it isn't mine.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

The Snuff Musical has four more performances in the Capital Fringe Festival. For further show information and tickets, see the Fringe website.

Show Graphic: Courtesy of the Fringe Artists.

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