Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: A Fabulous Mess

By Michael Block

Big congratulations must be given for getting this show on its feet. That's MISS FITS, to YOU! is a massive undertaking. With a total running time of close to three hours and 27 songs, Todd Tif Fernandez's musical is for the ambitious. So what exactly is That's MISS FITS, to YOU!? That's a very good question. That's MISS FITS, to YOU! is not your well-made musical. Shall we start with the balletic opening that never ever resurfaced? Whether dream ballet or not, this opening set a precedence that Fernandez was never able to recover from. That is until the very end. The premise is this: four elder queens mourn the recent loss of their beloved Miss Fits. How she died is the reason why the quartet find themselves at the police station. Through story, song, and flashback, the lives of these four queer individuals are brought to life. When a resolution is close to formation, Fernandez blindsides us all in an ending that made less sense than that of the cult television classic "LOST". Yet, shockingly, almost every brazen textual choice Fernandez dropped could be justified. But we shall get to that shortly. In terms of musical theater, Fernandez's musical is inexcusably far too long. Aside from the fluff material, there was far too much going on with way too many ideas jammed into one piece. Just look at the Judy Garland Act I finale and the Rosa Parks numbers. This story still exists when they are eliminated. In fact, it does nothing but confuse the established story. If a character doesn't know who Judy Garland is, you don't need an entire number to explain it. Fernandez is desperately seeking a dramaturg. Even with the whacky ending, there are references that are out of time. From a number, sung in the 60s, called "Drag Race" to including a musical line from the unwritten Annie in the in the unnecessary 60's piano bar number, Fernandez needs some assistance reigning his story in and making it sensibly believable. With streamlining a necessary thing to do, the musical went off the rails with the introduction of Rosa and Judy. But if he needs to cut something big: Miss Fits Version 1 needs to go. Especially if there must be a jarring transformation with Miss Fits Version 2. Fernandez could easily displace some of his strongest songs, currently sung by Miss Fits, and eliminate her character. There's something more powerful in allowing the audience to paint a picture of a beloved unseen character. Bit if we're keeping the songs, some of the others must go. And if some of the music sounds familiar, you're right. "Day By Day" anyone?
photo by Erik McGregor
This giant cast looked like that we're having fun. And isn't that what theater is all about? Despite the material, the company committed. Some of the strongest performances came from Christopher Borg as Miss Conspiracy, Darren Polito as Miss Alliteration, and Brendan Leonard as Young Miss Service Wo-Man. They all brought spice and flavor to their respected character. Kimberlyn Avon as Young Miss Fits had a wealth of experience in her voice. It was shaky at times but it's the soul that counts.
Sometimes the festival provides some massive roadblocks that need to be overcome to succeed. With a cast of 16, the stage at the fabulous SoHo Playhouse was just to small. Especially when you lose an entire entrance due to band placement. Director-choreographer Jonathan Warman was handcuffed when it came to staging. Even with four folding chairs and a high desk as the set, the number of bodies cluttered the stage. Limitations were in full force but not when it came to costumes! Fun and fabulous is an understatement. Each character, with the exception of Young Miss Counterpoint, had an identifiable look that linked the characters. Once again, it can be justified with the painful plot twist, why the characters changed costumes without recognition of time change was woeful. Though there was one sole acknowledgement. The projections by David Palmer looked pretty but they added nothing, especially when you couldn't see them.
With hopes of bringing visibility to queer characters, That's MISS FITS, to YOU! should be commended.