Review: THE MORTIFICATION OF FOVEA MUNSON at Kennedy Center

The world premiere musical runs from March 11th through 19th!

By: Mar. 06, 2023
Review: THE MORTIFICATION OF FOVEA MUNSON at Kennedy Center
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The Mortification of Fovea Munson is a fast-paced, TYA musical based on the novel of the same name, both penned by Mary Winn Heider. The story follows Fovea, a middle schooler who just wants to find her place in the world despite her parents' owning a cadaver lab. Suddenly, when Whitney, the cadaver lab's receptionist, runs off with her boyfriend to Florida, Fovea finds herself stuck working at the cadaver lab all summer. She finds it insufferable... until three disembodied heads need to ask her for a huge favor.

While incredibly fascinating to watch, Heider's pacing in this script felt a bit off - I felt as if I was always trying to catch up with the amount of things happening in such a quick succession. Though, with Theatre for Young Audiences, most scripts maintain fast pacing to keep younger ones engaged in content. Some themes came seemingly out of nowhere, especially toward the end of the show. Specifically, Fovea's interactions with her grandmother throughout the show did not hint at her sudden desire to learn more about her culture at the end. There was never any conversation about her identity of being Filipino to reference what became the resolution to Fovea's character arc, making it feel less satisfying.

However, Heider shines in her comedic writing and other extremely heartfelt moments throughout this show. The standout scene comes right at the apex of conflict where our three disembodied talking heads we've come to know and love throughout the show are slowly dying, trying to encourage Fovea to continue on her quest. Heartwarming and emotional, the commentary on death and what it means to live pushed this show along, keeping everyone in the audience fully engaged and empathetic to our main character's issues.

Justin Huertas' music and lyrics, partnered with Steven Trans arrangements, made for a fun, kids pop-rock feel to every song in the show. At times, it felt that Fovea had a lot of words in rapid succession for several songs in a row, especially toward the beginning of the script. I could say the same for the ending, with Fovea's two songs back to back, both feeling like the culmination of her character arc, where I believe one would have sufficed. Nevertheless, all songs in the show are absolutely songs parents would listen to in the car with their kids and not get tired of constantly hearing - fun, upbeat, and even a couple with a barbershop quartet. I found some melodies being stuck in my head as I drove back home.

Justine “Icy” Moral as Fovea Munson and <a target=Farrell Parker as Whitney with ensemble." height="533" src="https://cloudimages.broadwayworld.com/upload13/2228749/TWood_TMFM-adv_13.jpg" width="800" />
Justine "Icy" Moral as Fovea Munson and Farrell Parker as Whitney with ensemble.

The technical elements shined with a fantastic set design by Arnel Sancianco, partnered with Lee Fiskness' lighting design and puppets made by Erik Teague. Fluorescent tube lights outlined the set, making moments even as simple as turning the lights on in the lab something to focus on. All three elements were completely cohesive, really building this cadaver lab we spend so much time in to feel very real to the audience - but not scary to kids.

Above all else, this ensemble absolutely nailed every moment of the production. A testament not only to them but to the director, M. Graham Smith. The comedic timing of Fovea's parents, played by Dylan Arrendondo and Regina Aquino, never failed to make me cackle from my seat. Speaking of Aquino, her comedic timing shined even more during her time on stage as Grandma Van, getting her own song that the entire audience loved. Our three talking heads, played by Arrendondo, Jonathan Atkinson, and Michael Mainwaring, tugged on everyone's heartstrings in their last moments. Whitney, the receptionist, played by Farrell Parker, brought the house down with their vocals. Christopher Michael Richardson played Howe, easily named my favorite character by the end of the show, who brought this sheltered, busy schoolboy to life during his endeavors with Fovea, played by Justice "Icy" Moral. Moral carried the entire show on their back, always making the audience root for Fovea to win.

All in all, The Mortification of Fovea Munson is an absolutely wonderful time to have and spend with your family at the Kennedy Center. While there's still tweaking to be done, it hits exactly what it should in the end: live life to its fullest potential, doing what you want to do, not just what others want from you. And it's okay not to know exactly what that is just yet... especially if you're in middle school.

The Mortification of Fovea Munson runs at the Kennedy Center March 11th through March 19th. Performance run time is approximately 80 minutes. This show is most enjoyed by ages 10+. There will be a sensory friendly performance on March 18th at 11:00am.

Photo credit: Theresa Wood




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