Rick Crom, the creator of Newsical - the Musical, directed by Mark Waldrop and currently playing at the 47th Street Theatre, is an equal-opportunity satirist. He doesn’t discriminate. Through his charming new show, he parodies every current news story, TV news-personality, or celebrity scandal that has graced the mass media, setting his sights on political higher-ups (Clintons, Bushes, Obamas) and sports/pop icons (Tiger Woods, Miley Cyrus), along with the wannabes (the balloon boy and his family, White House party-crashers, etc).
He is a sniper in a tower, using the musical revue format to take shots at every figure who’s entered the public domain, firing at each one - regardless of status or political affiliation – with a delightful, carefree mania. Sometimes his aim falters; he hits some targets better than others. But most of the bits are very funny and, ultimately, few celebrities come out of this show unscathed.
The obvious inspiration behind Newsical is Forbidden Broadway. The latter show, created by Gerard Alessandrini, took its shots at Broadway musicals and has been so consistently funny going on 28+ years that it’s become a New York theatrical staple. It’s clear that Mr. Crom has similar plans in mind for Newsical. It’s the type of show, like Forbidden Broadway, that has no end of material to satirize (as news stories and scandals will always exist) and thus can run forever if the material is kept consistently funny and engaging.
Parodying the news is nothing new, of course. TV shows like “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and the weekend update segment of “Saturday Night Live” have discovered this concept, but now Crom has come up with the “it’s so simple, how did we not think of this before” idea of adapting ongoing world-events into a musical revue with a song for each scandal, a dig for each personality.
Like Forbidden Broadway before it, Newsical has no plot, as that would inhibit the show from skewering all its targets … hey, if anyone can come up with a coherent plot linking Suze Orman to Joan Rivers and restless-leg syndrome, a steak dinner is on me; but, unlike its predecessor, Newsical - at least in this current format - won’t have the same staying-power as Alessandrini’s brainchild. The obvious reason: the songs aren’t as memorable.
The cleverness of Forbidden Broadway was that it kept the melodies of great Broadway numbers like “Memory” and “Luck be a Lady,” while simply altering the lyrics, thereby paying musical homage to Cats and Guys and Dolls even as it poked fun at them conceptually. We were already in love with the melodies. With Newsical, however, there are no prepackaged masterwork-melodies on which to base the parody. Crom had to write all of the songs himself and, unfortunately, he is not nearly up to the level of a Stephen Sondheim or Jule Styne. Of all the songs in this current production of Newsical, only the last one, “You’re in Denial,” has a definable melody. Half the fun of seeing a musical is listening to the soundtrack in one’s living room after the show and vicariously reliving the theatrical experience, but I’m not about to add Newsical’s tracks to my Napster playlist anytime soon.
Fortunately, what Newsical lacks in melodic “catchiness,” it makes up for in comedy, with myriad sketches performed by a stellar cast. Amy Griffin (understudying for Christina Bianco), Rory O’Malley, Christine Pedi and Michael West are all fine comedians, put to the lofty task of portraying pretty much every newsworthy (and un-newsworthy) television personality. Each performer brings his/her distinct energy to the show. The premises behind the sketches are also very clever. Nancy Grace questioning the authorities about their investigation into Snow White, and how she came to be comatose after living with seven dwarves, was great fun. A song involving Miley Cyrus performing at Disneyland after losing everything in the stock market was immensely funny, as well. And, although I can’t give it away, I will say that one sight-gag in particular, involving a trash bag, was just about the most inspired moment this critic has seen in the theatre in a long while, ranking with the great physical comedy of Chaplin or Keaton.
**First Photo in Article by Bradley Clements
"Balloon Boy" photo features: Michael West, Christine Pedi, Rory O'Malley and Christina Bianco
**Photos Below also by Bradley Clements
"Supremes" photo features: Christine Pedi, Rory O'Malley, Christina Bianco and Michael West
"Susan Boyle" photo features: Rory O'Malley
"White House Crashers" photo features: Rory O'Malley and Christina Bianco