Kerry Butler and Deidre Goodwin
in Pandora's Box
(© Carol Rosegg)
Kerry Butler and Deidre Goodwin
in Pandora's Box
(© Carol Rosegg)
[Ed. Note: This is the fourth in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the seventh annual New York Musical Theatre Festival.]

*****************

Surely the last thing the world needs now is a hate song like "She's a Dyke," the centerpiece of the generally odious, misogynistic musical Pandora's Box, at the Theatre at St. Clement's. Glen Roven bases his music and lyrics fairly faithfully on the 1995 French film Gazon Maudit (French Twist), but here the froth of farce falls flat amid a general meanness of spirit.

Pandora (Kerry Butler) is a bored housewife neglected by her philandering husband, Oliver (played with convincing sleaze by James Patrick Stuart). One evening, while he's out clubbing, a stranded motorist knocks on Pandora's door. While awaiting a tow, Mona (Deidre Goodwin), manages to unclog Pandora's drain -- as if the symbolism weren't sufficient, the staging is orgasmic -- while stirring suppressed romantic yearnings.

Both actresses are authentic enough to make the speed-seduction credible. What's disappointing is that there's little subsequent self-examination as to sexual preference on Pandora's part. She heads straight into narcissism ("Who's Still Got It?") and seems to view the new alliance mainly as a means to re-pique her husband's interest.

That she succeeds is partly due to the intercession of a whore with a heart of gold -- played by Luba Mason, who seizes the stage at the top of Act 2 and gives a knockout performance of the show's one memorable song, "One Great Love." With this cliché cameo, Mason manages to convey a fully rounded character deserving of our invested concern.

Goodwin pours her heart into Mona, too, but against insuperable odds; the script has an unbelievable act of betrayal up its sleeve, not to mention a production number ("Slap My Butt"), which seems to suggest that sexuality, whatever form it takes, is a matter of programmed responses. Ultimately, Pandora's Box could use a lot less wink-wink and a great deal more heart.

-- Sandy MacDonald


Evan Jay Newman, Andy Mientus, Todd Horman,
and Dan Lawler in Shine!
(© Ron Case)
Evan Jay Newman, Andy Mientus, Todd Horman,
and Dan Lawler in Shine!
(© Ron Case)
Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical, playing at Theater at St. Clements, tells a simple story about a good-natured bootblack who finds that hard work and a little luck lead to great success. In other words, it's just what you'd expect from a musical based on Alger's popular "Ragged Dick" stories of the late 19th Century -- a charming, feel-good musical.

Andy Mientus plays the enterprising bootblack Richard "Dick" Hunter with such eagerness and sincerity that it's easy to see why Dick endears himself to nearly everyone he meets. After impressing Silas Snobden (William Ryall) and gaining a job at his haberdashery, Dick begins imagining his road to a better life despite complications from his conniving stepfather (Michael Halling) and Snobden's jealous employees (Jimmy Ray Bennett and Stanton Nash).

Roger Anderson and Lee Goldsmith's songs are simple but well-suited to the story -- the book is by Richard Seff -- and to its clearly-defined good and bad characters, portrayed by a capable cast under the direction of Peter Flynn. The set by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case features a backdrop that evokes an idealized 19th-century New York, and costumes by the same team also bring the time period to life.

Admittedly, the show -- which combines two Alger novels -- has too many minor characters and subplots that result in some unnecessary moments such as an ode to beer performed by a group of landladies, or the opening of the Woolworth store near Snobden's which becomes a quickly-forgotten plot point. Yet the work's tremendous heart and unabashed celebration of Alger's popular stories are in ample evidence in this appealing musical about the rise from rags to riches.

-- Meredith Lee


Peter Allen Vogt, Cory Rouse, Kelly Holden-Bashar,
and Ryan Smith in Fellowship!
(© Mark Baer)
Peter Allen Vogt, Cory Rouse, Kelly Holden-Bashar,
and Ryan Smith in Fellowship!
(© Mark Baer)

There are some genuinely funny bits in Fellowship! The Musical Parody of "The Fellowship of the Ring", now on view at the Chernuchin Theatre. But overall, a proliferation of lame jokes and generic music make the 100-minute show seem as long as the actual Lord of the Rings film adaptation, and only a fraction as entertaining.

The piece -- which features music by Allen Simpson, a book by director Joel McCrary and Kelly Holden-Bashar, and lyrics and/or additional material by the entire cast -- tackles the first part of J.R. Tolkien's trilogy in which young hobbit Frodo (Cory Rouse) begins an epic journey to destroy a powerful magic ring.

The narrative arc of the musical rather faithfully follows the basic trajectory of its source material, but takes a few more detours when it comes to characterization. As might be expected, the subtextual homoeroticism between Frodo and Sam (Peter Allen Vogt) is made rather blatant here, while the show also pokes fun at the Elvish dialogue between Strider (Matthew Stephen Young) and Arwen (Edi Patterson); the rivalry between dwarf Gimli (Lisa Frederickson) and elf Legolas (Patterson); lapses in logic within the trilogy's plot, and much more.

Rouse is easily the best singer in the cast, and credibly apes the sweet, wide-eyed innocence of his film counterpart, Elijah Wood. Vogt, on the other hand, chews the scenery with annoying abandon, particularly in his secondary role as The Balrog, who engages in fourth-wall breaking patter with the audience in "The Balrog Blues."

McCrary makes good use of toys and puppets to amusingly (and cheaply) stage certain special effects, with Jeffrey Cady's projections tracking the various shifts in location. But the overall pacing tends to drag and the musical numbers never enliven the action as much as one might hope.

-- Dan Bacalzo