Sometimes I just want a fun, beautiful-sounding, pretty-looking musical that doesn't ask me to think too hard. Don't you? The Prospect Theater Company's new production of Sam Carner and Derek Gregor's Unlock'd, now playing at the Duke on 42nd Street, satisfies that desire and then some. This is a bubbly, over-the-top yet downright likable show.
Originally presented as part of the 2007 New York Musical Theatre Festival, Unlock'd is based on Alexander Pope's satirical epic poem "The Rape of the Lock," about a high society quarrel over hair in which several mythical creatures, and even the Gods, take an interest. Pope's epic form mocked the prevailing vogue for all things Greco-Roman, while his content took aim at a superficial society in which a woman's appearance and marriageability were paramount. While it was a huge hit in its day (first published in 1712), I doubt the satire would land with as much force in a post-feminist society obsessed with vampires and superheroes (rather than Gods and fairies), such as ours. That doesn't keep the story from delighting us with its silliness however, especially when well-executed, as it is here.
Unlock'd is the story of Belinda (Jillian Gottlieb), the most beautiful woman with the most beautiful hair in all the land. Seriously, girlfriend's bumpit must have been forged in the fires of Mordor, such is its lofty intensity. Belinda is so fair and virginal that the Sylphs (Chandler Reeves, Maria Couch, and Catherine Le Frere) elect to make her Queen of the Fairies. Yet when the dashing Roderick Shearing, Baron of Windsorloch (Sydney James Harcourt) plots to clip a lock of Belinda's hair, the fairies fear that Belinda will be spoiled forever.
Belinda's less glamorous step-sister Clarissa (Jennifer Blood) further complicates matters in her quest to come out of Belinda's shadow. Meanwhile, the Baron's younger brother, Edwin (A.J. Shively), tries to get beyond Belinda's towering hair and into her brain. A trio of Gnomes (Chris Gunn, Adam Daveline, and Hansel Tam) round out the cast and wreak further havoc on the proceedings. The actors cross on and offstage, chasing one another and changing allegiances with well-choreographed lunacy, interrupted only for a spot of tea. The whole farcical affair is brought to an end by a literal deus ex machina that propels the whole cast into song.
Gottlieb blew me away with her coloratura soprano and perfect comic timing, playing several emotionally invested scenes opposite a talking strand of hair. With a rich voice and a winning smile, Harcourt is every bit the leading man. Costume designer Amy Clark has wisely outfitted him in off-white skinny jeans, which fit him like a glove and mesh surprisingly well with his flowery vest and black-and-white striped justacorps.
Speaking of costumes, huge props go to the Gnomes and Sylphs (and their wardrobe assistants) for quick-changing about 100 times during the show, between their mythical characters and alternate roles as lords and ladies of the court. This is a feat of Olympic theatricality.
According to the program Unlock'd is set "Back Then-ish. Across the Pond-ish," which is to say, a time and place distinctly reminiscent of Georgian England. Much of the action takes place at Hampton Court, a sprawling palace on the Thames. Yet historical accuracy is inconsequential when it comes to this visually sumptuous, highly fantastical world. Director Marlo Hunter and her team of designers have delicately crafted every detail, resulting in an explosion of color and light on stage.
It is the perfect setting for Gregor's music, which is simultaneously challenging and memorable. Jaunty production numbers like "Hampton Court" are tempered with rousing anthems like "Off to the East" to create a dynamic score that will keep your ear engaged. Music Director Adam Wacher leads a six-person band to create a surprisingly full sound that balances well with the actors' voices. It all comes together for an entertaining evening of theater that doesn't ask for much in return beyond the ticket price. Sometimes it is nice to just sit back and enjoy.