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Just when you thought you’d recovered from the Fringe Festival, that jam-packed late summer overdose of theatre, it’s time to guess again. Although most shows are over and done, a handful have been selected for more performances in the Encore Series, running through September 28th.
Three of these are The Muffin Man, Devil Boys From Beyond and Powerhouse, all of which I’ve previously reviewed for NiteLifeExchange.com, and are all being performed at the Actors’ Playhouse. I hope to catch up with some of the others I missed in August now that they are being extended. Even a reviewer surviving on little sleep and having no other life cannot possibly see all 201 shows in two weeks.
I’m happy to hear that Zipperface!!?!: The Hobo Musical has been chosen as one of the Encore Series shows, so I’ll spend a little more time talking about that one, since you still have time to zip over to the Actors’ Playhouse on 7th Avenue South. They’re not kidding when they call it a “Hobo Musical.” Even the members of the band are dressed in rags, and they all look like they need a bath. It adds greatly to the atmosphere of the sense of the unexpected and irreverent. One of the musicians plays the saw, and another plays the washtub bass.
The plot is wild and crazy, and is played very broadly. It involves detectives, reporters, a little murder and an alley cat. Even the cast biographies are in the spirit of the show. The bio of the amusing Anthony Younes, who plays the cat, has a bio that begins: “Meow, meow, meow…” Jon Bershad, Dave Rothstadt, and Andy Wolf are the writers, producers and are in the cast. Their love for their own material is evident in their high energy, off-kilter performances. They are joined by a lively company which also goes for broke. Lauren Perri is a standout as the female detective resented by the guys. Director Gregory Bing knows how to bring plenty of zing when they sing and do the scary thing. Part of the fun is that you never quite know where the story is going. One moment it’s about sex discrimination among detectives, another moment it’s about politics, and then of course there’s the murder streak. The actors work together well as a tight ensemble. The songs help to tell the tale, but are sometimes very brief and just poke fun at the genre of musical theatre. This show is equally successful skewering clichés of murder mysteries, detective stories and musical comedies. And I’m willing to bet most audience members won’t be able to guess who the real murderer is. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter, because you’ll be having too good a time just laughing at their nutty shenanigans. This show does feel long, as the same kind of humor starts to repeat, and they could use some tightening. In fact, the writers even admitted in a song lyric in the finale, that the show was too long. (Too much of a good thing?) Perhaps one more surprise element near the end would help. Don’t expect a traditional show, but do expect a lot of good natured joy.
Children’s theatre is always a part of the Fringe Festival. The presumed logic is that shows for kids have to be lively, fast-paced and loud, to capture the children’s attention. What a sweet surprise to find a theatre company that takes the gentle approach, and draws kids in with their own gentle manner. “Mild mannered” is putting it mildly; sometimes you have to strain a bit to hear them. It’s almost as if you’ve stumbled into someone’s cottage and heard their private conversation. But Mutti’s After Supper Stories is a darling show. What we have are five tales from the Brothers Grimm. What makes this company so special and heartwarming is that the cast consists of four people who off stage are a real-life mother and her three children. They are joined by a musician, Hugh Hales-Tooke, who also wrote the songs. The music matches the old-fashioned, low-key tone of the entire endeavor. With simple props and costumes, a table becomes the oven in Hansel and Gretel, and a piece of fabric or a hat allows someone to change characters. The children in the audience were quite attentive and appreciative. A little more energy in the proceedings might be in order, but by and large, this is a success. Watching Noelle McGrath-DePaula interact with her own children, whether she is a story-telling grandmother (Mutti) or a villain is quite interesting. The DePaula children are delightful, with teenaged Lily surprisingly having the least to do in acting, but quite effective in her supportive role with music and props etc. Juliet is poised and focused in her several roles, and sings in a light and attractive manner. Little Colin, a fifth grader, is the sparkplug of the group --- absolutely terrific especially as Rumpelstiltskin . He’s absorbed a lot, or maybe he’s just a natural; either way--- bravo! The show is written, directed, and designed by Iris Rose. I’ll be interested in seeing more productions put on by Theatre of the Grasshopper. (www.theatreofthegrasshopper.org)
Diamond Deadbrings us into the world of the macabre and morose. Admittedly, I am not the target audience for this show. Very hard rock with screaming guitars, screaming vocals and foul-mouthed characters in the world of the dead, is not my cup of blood. If there had been more wit or excitement in the music, less repetition in the interaction and plot, I might have been pulled in a bit more. As it is, the show is abrasive, in your face and has a few good ideas that need development. In the small space without a raised stage, it is claustrophobic. The show resembles an overlong comedy sketch or college YouTube prank. In fact, the over-reliance of film footage with the same performers seems unnecessary. I was hoping for another fun vampire spoof or a musical where a rock musical actually rocked the house. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the material, it’s only fair to say that the cast members had some flair in their rock singing and roared through their characterizations with fearlessness.
For complete details of the shows in the Fringe Encore series visit www.fringenyc-encoreseries.com