Saturday, August 26, 2006

Review - Autumn Moon (Wings Theatre Company)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Judging by the audience at this evening’s performance of Autumn Moon, which is being billed as a ‘rock thriller musical,’ there seemed to be two general reactions. First, and sadly the one shared by much of the audience, was head-scratching befuddlement. But those of us of a certain age, say mid-to-late thirties, knew exactly what this show was: a sly and dead-on homage to the horror films of the 1980s (Fright Night, The Howling, American Werewolf in London, etc.).

Lycan Weir (and let’s face it, short of calling him Wolfy McWerewolf, this is the perfect name to bring the audience up to speed) is a troubled young man (normally played by David Weitzer, Lycan was played by understudy Jeremy Jonet tonight). Approaching his 25th birthday, he’s having troubling nightmares. Unable to exorcise his demons by writing down his dreams, and only temporarily calmed by his loving wife, Esmay (Mishaela Faucher), he does the only thing that anyone in his situation would do: he turns to a gypsy fortune-teller, Beta (Dana Barathy), for help.

Beta tells him of a curse placed on his family generations ago, when one of his ancestors made a pact with Minion (Jesse Easley), a lord of the underworld. On his 25th birthday, he, like his forefathers, will turn into a savage, blood-thirsty beast and will continue to do so with each full moon. But Beta offers him a way out. Using magic and his cursed blood, she can send him back in time, back to the time of the curse, where he can take the place of one of his ancestors and save his family from destruction. All he has to do is find Isis (also played by Mishaela Faucher), a young gypsy girl, save her from death at the hands of Lawrence (Scott Richard Foster), and the curse will be lifted.


But even if it is, will Lycan ever return to his own time? And are any of these people who they seem to be?

Even though Lycan’s own time is present day, and the time he travels back to is the mid-1800s, everything about the production screamed The Eighties. David Velarde’s score featured power ballads that Meatloaf would dig (Isis and Lycan’s ‘All of My Life’) and rock/new wave songs (Minion’s ‘Shout It Out’) that were just begging for Billy Idol’s sneer. Lauren Cozza’s choreography was perfectly in sync with the style of each song and the general ’80s vibe.

Costume designer Stephen Smith followed the theme by creating classic punk rock outfits for Minion and Lawrence, and some truly inspired outfits for The Pack, the supporting ensemble. The makeup and hair (the big, teased, moussed hair) was well-suited for the period, and brought to mind several fashion disasters from my own youth.

Taking it up a notch was the marvelous lighting design by Julie Seitel. Her work was delightfully over the top in the more music video-type numbers like ‘Lycan’s Dream’ and ‘Shout It Out’.
The acting and singing were generally strong, though understudy Jeremy Jonet sounded tentative in several of his numbers, especially those with Mishaela Faucher, whose strong voice occasionally overpowered his. Faucher had the most poignant song of the evening, the sweet lullabye ‘Dream Catcher’, which she delivered wonderfully. As Beta, Dana Barathy easily stole every scene she was in, not just because of her smokin’ hot costume, but because of her distinctive voice and the Eartha Kitt lilt in her delivery. Her scenes with Jesse Easley’s rough and cocky Minion featured a dangerous, yet playful, give and take between the two actors. Scott Richard Foster is to be commended for his strong falsetto which he was called upon to demonstrate again and again; he was up to the challenge each time. The Pack (William Broyles, Sara Fetgatter, Marissa Lupp, Rebecca Riker and Amber Shirley) were uniformly good as actors, singers and dancers. The women of The Pack shone in the ‘Gypsy Theme’ instrumental number, which featured some nice, athletic choreography. Broyles is worth mentioning as well for his outstanding physical work (especially as a grotesque homunculus serving Beta) which was backed up by a strong speaking and singing voice.

Director Jonathan Stuart Cerullo kept the pacing quick, the blocking interesting and generally did a very good job with the production.

The primary weakness in this show was in the book and the lyrics, also by David Velarde. The dialogue was stilted and forced, featuring some groaners that sounded like they were taken from bodice-ripper romance novels. The lyrics (which were often drowned out by the overly loud music) seemed to set a mood more than advance the story. The story itself was overly complicated and several key scenes were under explained. The twist at the end (and all good ’80s horror films had a twist at the end) was great, but the explanation was abrupt, leaving more than a few audience members lost.

If you go into this musical with an open mind and an appreciation for the genre that Velarde is paying tribute to, you will probably have a pretty good time. If this all sounds like a little too much for you, or you are looking for a ‘traditional’ musical, then this one is probably not for you.

Want to find out more? Autumn Moon has a website with photos of the cast, other info about the production, and clips of many of the songs. You can even order the cast album. The show runs through September 2nd.

Book, Music and Lyrics by David Velarde
Directed and Staged by Jonathan Stuart Cerullo
Wings Theatre Company as part of its New Musicals Series

Monday, August 21, 2006

Review - Moral Values: A Grand Farce, or Me No Likey The Homo Touch-Touch (NY International Fringe Festival)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

It’s the very near future and the conservatives’ nightmare has come true: gay marriage has been made legal. Not only that, but the President has gone so far as to legislate that every family in the United States take in a gay, married person for two weeks as part of the new program called GESS (Gays Educating Scared Straights).

Despite his rabid patriotism, John Smith (Josh La Casse) is having none of it. The very thought of having one of ‘those people’ in his house is enough to make him want to . . . well, jump through a plate glass window, as it turns out. He doesn’t want to risk having his adoring wife, Margaret (Carrie McCrossen), jock son, Michael (Roger Lirtsman), innocent daughter, Stacy (Maria McConville), and adorable moppet, Billy, perverted by a deranged homosexual. Never mind, of course, that Margaret is about to leave him for Estaban (Graham Skipper), the mailman. Or that Michael is a steroid freak and Stacy has an internet sex show. And Billy . . . well no one can really remember the last time they saw him. But they’re sure he’s fine.

Enter the deranged homosexual, Steve (Isaac Oliver), who as it turn out is a meek, normal looking guy who is not in the least bit trying to destroy Western civilization. While being menaced by John, who starts spinning out of control, Steve attempts to bond with the rest of the family, as mandated by law. After becoming friends with the kids, he confesses his big secret. He’s straight. The government didn’t have enough homosexuals to participate in their GESS program (even after forcing all of them to), so it resorted to drafting men who were suspected of being gay. Metrosexuals beware.

As would be expected in a show with ‘farce’ in the title, much of this show is deliciously over-the-top. In fact, the main weakness is that it doesn’t let itself go nearly as much as it could. The most ludicrious moments, John leaping through a window, Estaban ripping open his shirt to expose his bull tattoo, the introduction of Binky, John’s childhood toy and voice of reason, all of those were hilarious. The finale of the play, an ecstatic dance number that had the audience clapping and laughing, had the prolonged intensity that the rest of the play only had in flashes. And ultimately, this play needed more of that.

Ian McWethy’s script was good and he dealt with complicated and touchy subjects with a deftly amusing hand, though at times it seemed that he wrote it while channeling Seth MacFarlane. Director Jeffrey Glaser did a good job, though the show would have been better had he really pushed the absurd aspects.

The cast was excellent. As John, Josh LaCasse was a dervish of anger and red-faced frustration. The scene where he relived, or possibly imagined, a homosexual encounter from his college days was priceless. Carrie McCrossen was funny as Margaret, especially in her scenes with Estaban, but it was as an Automated Voice on a phone menu that she truly excelled. Roger Lirtsman and Maria McConville played well off on another, and they had the teenage sibling relationship down perfectly. Graham Skipper was amusing as Estaban, but a little of that character went a long way. As Binky, the wise plush toy who tries to pull John from the edge of madness, he was brilliant. Isaac Oliver’s Steve was inoffensively amusing in a Jon Cryer sort of way. His bemused frustration was fun to watch and his phone scene with McCrossen was wonderful.

Richardon Jones, who played damn near everyone else in the show, was fantastic. His turn as a predatory frat boy was hilarious. With respect to LaCasse, I would have liked to have seen what Jones would have done with John Smith. Looking older, he might have been a more appropriate choice for that role than the young-looking LaCasse.

Production values for the show were not great. The lighting especially was disappointing and often left characters delivering their lines from shadows. I imagine this had more to do with the show having to share its space with other productions, rather than a poorly thought out lighting design. At least the lack of scenery made set changes quick and they didn’t skimp on Binky’s costume with was great.

All in all, this was an amusing play and a solid production. With a little more time and money, and a ‘throw caution to the wind’ attitude, it could have been even better.

Take a minute to visit the website. It’s really nicely done.

Written by Ian McWethy
Directed by Jeffrey Glaser
New York International Fringe Festival