Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review - For the Love of Christ! (New York International Fringe Festival, Knoxious Productions and imPULSE Theatre)

Review by Byrne Harrison

La Cage meets The Ritz. Well, not exactly, but that is the vibe that comes from Ben Knox's new musical For the Love of Christ!. A frothy, silly, funny show, it may not leave a permanent impression, but you will leave the theatre smiling.

Upon reflection, I should say that most people will leave the theatre smiling. If you have a thin skin about religious matters, this is not the show for you. If you regularly read things sent to you from James Dobson or Bill Donohue, this is not the show for you. If you think "South Park" is blasphemous, this is not the show for you.

Then again, if any of the above were true, I seriously doubt you'd be reading this review to begin with.

For the Love of Christ! follows Charlie (Ben Knox), a good, upstanding Christian man with a lovely wife, Angela (Kristy Cates), and two . . . well, let's say interesting children. His daughter Mary (Eryn Murman) is a hellion waiting to be let loose. His son Mikey (Jamaal Wilson) is fabulous, with a glittery capital F.

Charlie knows he is different than other men. That he has longings that his wife can't fulfil. These evil longings lead him to the Bottoms Up Bathhouse, owned by Pauly (Steven Strafford), the world-weary proprietor (and wannabe chanteuse), and his mustachioed Latin boyfriend, Dante (Eric Rubbe). Spotting Charlie's expensive suit and closeted demeanor, they see a chance to save the financially troubled bathhouse by robbing Charlie blind. All they need is a distraction. That comes in the form of the beautiful airline steward, Jésus (Dan Amboyer). And no, the name is not a coincidence. Turns out Jésus is more than what he appears to be.

But Angela won't let Charlie be seduced by sodomy without a fight. Assisted by the fiery Father Reverend (Marty Thomas), she's ready to do whatever it takes to whomever she must to save his soul.

What follows is the stuff of classic farce, with some terrific songs thrown in. Plots are hatched, people are chased, high heels are worn, songs are sung, and monkeys are let loose on the terrified denizens of the bathhouse. I'm not even going to try to explain the last one. Suffice it to say, the show is a riot.

The acting is terrific, with particular praise going to Marty Thomas, Kristy Cates, Steven Strafford, and Jamaal Wilson. Thomas and Cates work together especially well; their scenes are a high point.

Holly-Anne Ruggiero's direction is outstanding, keeping the play moving at a hilarious gallop, and Music Director Alexander Rovang does a great job with Knox's songs. Holly Cruz's choreography is great as well.

On the down side, Amboyer, who uses a nasal French-Canadian accent for this play, is often hard to understand in his songs, especially in those with loud accompaniment (the song "1, 2, 3" is a prime example; his voice simply doesn't carry). Also, there is an unnecessary and overused story line about pedophile priests. This has been done to death in recent years, and undercuts some of Father Reverend's growth at the end of the play. It's good for a cheap laugh, but nothing more.

Knox proves himself an adept songwriter and lyricist, and while the book could be fleshed out more (probably not possible given the time constraints of the Fringe Festival), For the Love of Christ! is a fun, campy show.

For the Love of Christ!
Book, Music and Lyrics by Ben Knox
Directed by Holly-Anne Ruggiero
Scenic Designer: Michael P. Kramer
Lead Carpenter: Ashanti Coombs-Ziths
Costume Designer: Emily DeAngelis
Lighting Designer: Christian M. DeAngelis
Lighting Programmer: Chris Connolly
Sound Designer: Alex Hawthorn
Sound Engineer: Chip Barrow
Props Designer: Christopher Ford
Stage Manager: Paul Brewster
Stage Manager: Bryan Rountree
Production Assistants: Rachel Claire, Olivia Gemelli
Program: Eric Scwartz
Choreographer: Holly Cruz
Music Director: Alexander Rovang
Co-Line Producers: Noah Himmelstein and Joey Oliva

Featuring: Marty Thomas (Father Reverend), Eric Rubbe (Dante), Steven Strafford (Pauly), Ben Knox (Charlie), Kristy Cates (Angela), Eryn Murman (Mary), Jamaal Wilson (Mikey), Dan Amboyer (Jésus), Zachary Denison (Ensemble), Jason Michael Miller (Ensemble), Jay Reynolds, Jr. (Ensemble), A.J. Wilson (Ensemble), Kale Clauson (Dream Charlie)

The Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street

Sat 15 - 2:15 PM
Wed 19 - 10 PM
Fri 21 - 5 PM
Mon 24 - 3 PM
Fri 28 - 7 PM

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