Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: A Musical Revue From Hell

What if you have a really cool idea but it just gets executed so badly? You get Hell’s Belles, a new musical revue from book and lyricist Bryan D. Leys and composer Steve Liebman. The revue from hell showcases some of history’s baddest ladies as they sing and dance in a cabaret hosted by hell’s own Ryan Seacrest.
Hell’s Belles is one of those shows that a good pitch draws you in but when you’re experiencing the material you almost have to wonder have you actually died and gone to hell. The premise of the wannabe book musical is the schlocky demonic host Lester welcomes us sinners to hell where we get to watch a revolving door of bad girls come out and sing a tune or two. The idea is fun but Leys’ book is insufferable. The way he weaves in and out of numbers is forced and repetitive. In order to bring a semblance of a plot into the show, an unnamed pop star that embodies a plethora of iconic divas comes to hell after being killed by a vibrator, yes that’s right, a vibrator. This pop star is the only unnamed celebrity in the piece and it’s a bit strange. The diva protests her presence in hell but can’t help but take some time in the spotlight. Even with a diva running around, the show must go on and we meet an array of personalities from Eleanor Roosevelt, Lizzie Borden, Lady Godiva, and Princess Diana. Yes, that’s right, Princess Diana is in hell. With no rhyme or reason for the coming and going of character, the musical numbers are thrown in willy-nilly, all living in a mid to uptempo world. To Leys credit, he brings unapologetic humor. He fills his script with references upon references, many of which are met with moans and groans for pushing the envelope. In that regard, Hell’s Belles is “damned funny.” But when it comes to the sound and style, the music very much lives in the Golden Age. Perhaps the denizens of hell are fond of the old fashioned style but it forces the musical into a small demographic that feels dated. When it comes to the songs given to each character, most of which is person-oriented, on occasion are more environmental rather than character driven. Perhaps this is Leys and Liebman’s way of interchanging characters to fit the company they have. The biographical numbers have their nuggets but there were many missed opportunities. Namely when it comes to Evita herself, Eva Peron. Rather than dive into the real person, the entire song is wasted on Andrew Lloyd Weber writing a musical about her. Though it’s only about eighty minutes long, songs could be cut and this is by far the first to go.
photo by Russ Rowland
There may have been four actors on stage but you might as well have called it the Lindsey Brett Carothers Show. Carothers is a star. She personified diva with her primary character. She even nailed the signature Britney “yeah”. Carothers comic ability ranges from naughty to sweet and innocent. Carothers was easily the most skilled vocalist on stage. Rachel Erin O’Malley took on the more maternal characters including Eleanor Rooseevelt, Eva Braun, and the oddly placed Ma Barker, the least known of the entire night. O’Malley is a wonderful character actress bringing facial expressions to a new level. Her characters each had their own personality and nuance. Laura Daniel’s character track was by far the most inconsistent taking on personalities including everyone from Janis Joplin, Lady Godiva, and a country-fied Guinevere. Without an introduction, it may have been hard to identify her characters. Daniel certainly has an ability to play a character but was easily out-shined by Carothers and O’Malley. As Lester, the sleazy host, Matt Wolpe embodied everything we hate about unsavory variety show hosts. Wolpe was forced to ham up his performance for the comedy. Leys tried to give Lester a character arc but it was sorely played.
Director John Znidarsic had a lot of cheap laughs to go for in Leys’ libretto and he went for every single one. With the content not quite up to par, Znidarsic’s arsenal was limited. Znidarsic even tried to get pianist and music director Mary Feinsinger into the action but she didn’t quite seem up to the task. With a formulaic structure to tackle, Znidarsic offered little variety in the predictable piece. The scenic and lighting design by Josh Iacovelli was in line with the trashy nightclub aura of Hell’s Belles. The color and pattern combination was quite demonic. Which worked. And matched the red on red of Lester’s outfit designed by Dustin Cross.
What Hell’s Belles has going for it is in knows what it is. But the content is in need of some adjustment. Perhaps if booze was constantly flowing and the clock was past midnight, Hell’s Belles would actually be a damned funny musical.