Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: Dancing Can Save Your Life

By Ed Malin

In a world of crooks and unscrupulous press, imagine you are a broke theater producer itching to put on a production of The Threepenny Opera (that classic show about thieves).  Grand Theft Musical uses high and low comedy to address themes of love, musical theater envy, and crime. The tap dancing such a proposition implies comes from the work of the late famous Chicago theatrician Robert Sickinger (specifically his 1994 work Platinum Taps), transformed and rewritten by director and collaborator Lissa Moira, with John Taylor Thomas’s compositions and the usual dream team of performers.
Back in one of the golden ages of Broadway, William Gandolph Furst (William Broderick) is a lovable villain, also known as “the Worm”, who breaks his victim just as he breaks stories in his newspaper.  He has a stable of lovers (both female and queen) who ferret out news for the dirty rat.  Meanwhile, there’s a good girl, sort of, named Shoshana (Becca Gottlieb) whose stage name is “Sugar Cohen”.  Jacks Bagelman (Jonathan Fox Powers) is the producer who loves Sugar Cohen, but ow can he marry the dear until he makes a pile of money? While Sherry, a.k.a. dazzlingly blonde Inger (Bevin Bell Hall) spies for Furst, Jacks gathers his associates, Arnold “Benny” Benedict (Robert Homeyer) and the larger-than-life Russian √©migr√© director-type Misha Goss (David F. Slone, Esq.) to create a surefire theatrical cash cow.  This would be a good time to point out that “mishigas” (see: Misha Goss) is Yiddish for “craziness”, and that’s what these schemers—who namedrops a certain Bialystock (of The Producers fame)—deliver. Also, Jacks’s office is full of posters (Oklahoma!, South Pacific, Camelot) which lend their plot-twists to the pretzel-logic of the musical-within-the-musical.  However, there is much of the unique within the show’s two ironic, comedic acts.
When you hear an Ashkenazic-inflected arrangement of the Tarantella, you will soon see the mafia appear.  Jacks wants local mobster Don Mangemore (Jef Cant3r) to bankroll the likely flop, written by the rather green and idealistic Ernest Roseglass (James Parks).  The moolah comes with compulsory casting of the Don’s relative, Gino Raftino (Alex Hayden Miller), who’s returned from studying in, of course, Oklahoma.  The new show is choreographed by the flamboyant Sammy Song (Darius-Anthony Robinson), who is also with the Worm.  Some of the star power comes from the hesitant Deborah Downs (Kayleigh Shuler).  When she sobs to her director, he exclaims, “Are you acting?  Even Misha can’t tell!”  She replies “Neother can I.  That’s what’s so frightening.”  And then it gets that much more like Anything Goes when the two British stars, Sir Guy Loverly (Douglas MacDonnell) and his wife Lady Lily Loverly (Shana Farr) disembark.  These two have a jolly good time romancing everyone in the cast, even Ernest and Deborah, who had just managed to fall in love with each other a minute before.   The thrust of the play (which takes place in front of an art-deco phallic skyscraper mosaic, designed by Mark Marcante and Lytza Colon) is a musical pep-talk by Sir Guy, who wears a caped superhero outfit and calls himself Mighty Voice.  Sounding a bit like Might Mouse, Sir Guy counsels some recognizable, forlorn musical theater characters.  People might indeed say they’re in love, and every day can’t be your Camelot, but if you carefully teach yourself to believe in yourself, that would be a great start.  Lo and behold, the rest of the cast falls in love with its better halves, and the show makes bank.  Don Mangemore, tipped off by the Worm’s media whores, steps in to punish “traitors” such as Arnold Benedict; the victim takes a bullet to the chest but his Grandma’s Bible in his pocket spares his life.  As the show goes on, the only without a love interest is poor, incarcerated Don Mangemore.  However, he is in a gourmet prison where he can hang out with all the boys.
This lovely, full-length musical has something for everyone.  Fans of the American songbook will enjoy all the inside jokes. Sexual innuendo abounds, as well.  Musical Director Andy Peterson keeps the show’s 24 musical numbers rolling along, and a team of choreographers (J. Allan Hanna, Carlos Gomez, Mallory Brophy and Alex Hayden Miller) provide classy tap-dancing for Gino and many swoonable moments for the ensemble.  A lot of love for the genre and for the late Sickinger went into this production, which has been getting packed houses.  You will probably want to see what all the commotion is about.