Monday, March 16, 2009

Review - The Shortened Attention Span Musical Festival - Week One

Review by Bryan Clark

This zany festival features four thirty-minute musicals back-to-back. The program changes weekly for a total of three weeks. (I attended Week One.)

Give My Regards to Reading
Written by Jay Cohen and Danny Gardner
Directed by Danny Gardner
Performed by Jay Cohen

Performer Jay Cohen begins the evening emcee-style, greeting the arriving audience and improvising conversations with them. (When I told him I was reviewing the show, he offered me refreshments and swept the floor under my feet.) His persona is fun and appealing, and suggests that a dazzling tour-de-force will follow.

However, Cohen is at his best in the one-on-one preshow mode. He is not so successful in his actual show, which purports to be his self-produced sendoff prior to escaping from the small-town confines of Reading, PA and heading for the Big Apple to make it big. This story is very slow to take off, weighted down with predictable sight gags and repeating itself to no useful effect.

There is also not enough music to call the piece a musical. In fact, there is no live music at all, and the taped music is infrequent and perfunctory. It is impossible to say whether Cohen can sing or dance, since he barely does any of either. The show ends with “New York, New York” playing magically from a supposedly “broken” sound system, and off he goes to achieve his dream – but in the wake of all of the pratfalls and deadpan silliness it is hard to discern the tone of his departure, or of the play as a whole.

Assistant Director: T.J. Clark


Pocket Change
Book and Lyrics by Anne Berlin
Music by Andy Cohen
Directed by Valentina Fratti

Anne Berlin has devised a mildly amusing conceit of three actors portraying rarely-used coins: the Kennedy half-dollar, the Susan B. Anthony dollar and the Sacagawea dollar are in a love-triangle, yet all three fear the worst as they are being phased out in favor of paper money.

Like many late-night television sketches, this set-up doesn’t sustain its own length. The songs are witty and fun, but the dialogue scenes become leaden and long as the coin puns pile up. Jokes about the replacement of change with bills feel outdated, as bills are already being replaced by debit cards.

The notion might have played out more effectively if the actors had actually been dressed as coins. Or, it might work as a claymation YouTube video in support of a MySpace concept album. But perhaps any form of humor about the worthlessness of money is simply unwelcome at this economic juncture.

John F. Kennedy: Tom Schubert
Susan B. Anthony: Jessica Reiner-Harris
Sacagawea: Kim Carpenter


Book & Music by Adriel Borshansky and Justin Leider
Directed by Justin Leider

The sluggish evening comes alive here at the half-way point, as a bunch of young actors hit the stage dressed as the ingredients of a stew. The meats and vegetables taunt each other like high school jocks and nerds, and both groups compete for possession of Parsilla the Spice. They eventually realize that they should all cooperate to share her fabulous flavor, since they will all be eaten soon enough.

The presentation of this straightforward metaphor (i.e. we can reconcile our differences by sharing our mutually desired resources) is exactly what the Shortened Attention Span Musical Festival should be – fast, funny, and packed with great songs. It may sound like complete nonsense, but it is actually a no-nonsense approach to taking a great idea and setting it to music onstage.

Parsilla: Allie Steinberg
Lammy: Daniil Krimer
Chicky: Sarah Willis
Rumpy: Justin Robertazzi
Vealy: Rachel Rosen
Carrot: Greg Resnick
Brocolli: Kayla Isabelle
Eggplant: Allie Fetner
Bean: Mark Kendrick
Onion: Kait Walsh

Guitars: Dave Benton, Justin Leider
Bass: Alkis Meimaris

Lighting Designer: Colin Alexander


A Park, A Policeman and a Pretty Girl
Written by Jack Moore
Directed by Jack Moore and Deanna Weiner
Music composed and performed by Kathie Hathaway

The evening ends with a true show-stopper. The remarkably talented Jack Moore presents a tribute to Charlie Chaplin which is so deftly executed, you would think Moore studied with the master himself. His pantomime is brilliant and true – and quite startling to experience live rather than on the silent-film screen.

Although Moore’s performance as A Tramp is exquisite, he is well-matched with Melanie Rothman as A Pretty Girl and Will Snider as A Policeman. This is that rarest of plays in which there is an ensemble at work, despite a standout lead performance.

Kathie Hathaway’s silent-film music is spot on, and it is especially thrilling to watch her play it on the piano while keeping an eye to the action onstage. Together with the sparingly used title card projections, this is a fully integrated production, and is easily the best musical of the evening although not a word is sung or spoken.

A Tramp: Jack Moore
A Policeman: Will Snider
A Pretty Girl: Melanie Rothman

Stage Manager: Howie Tilkin


The remaining schedule is:

Week Three (March 19 – March 22):
Reptility by Scott Voloshin
Six O'Clock by Tom Bruett and David Dabbon
Acceptance by Stephen Elkins
The Voices in Your Head by Anjali Abraham

The Shortened Attention Span Musical Festival
Producers: Carlo Rivieccio and Christy Benanti
Festival Lighting Designer: Jason Baumueller
Publicity: Mike Martinez

Players Theater Loft
115 MacDougal Street