Angel on My Shoulder; Coffee\Evil; Enter Singing
TheaterMania's coverage of the Midtown International Theatre Festival concludes with reviews of three new shows.
Angel on My Shoulder
by David Gordon
Sometimes, a show just doesn't need to be a musical. Such is the case with the charming and well-intentioned Angel on My Shoulder, a new tuner inspired by the 1946 Paul Muni/Claude Raines/Anne Baxter flick about a dead gangster and his deal with the devil. Joe Maruzzo's charming production at the Midtown International Theater Festival plays remarkably well when all the actors are talking. Then, they start singing. It's not that the songs by Warren Hill, O'Mara Leary, and James Beaumont are bad; it's just that they don't really add anything. Beaumont and Maruzzo's book follows Harry Segall's screenplay pretty faithfully — gangster Eddie (Eric Morris, heartfelt) is released from the clink and is shot by his partner-in-crime, Smiley (Ned Donovan, who also directed the production's realistic fights).
After getting sent to hell, Eddie meets Nick, the Devil (Hakim Rashad McMillan, passionate), who uses the fact that Eddie looks like a highly reputable judge to try and destroy the man's career. But Eddie falls for the judge's fiancée, Barbara (Christina Carlucci, a great singer), instead.
The performers give it their all and play the comedy exceedingly well. Maruzzo's staging moves like gangbusters until the music starts, at which point the show just stops. Here's a great slapstick comedy that just doesn't need to be sung.
by David Gordon
Coffee\Evil, a new play by Michael Hagins, explores the one of the little-known side effects of coffee consumption: zombiism. A rare festival show where all of the parts add up, this comedy also benefits from not overstaying its welcome.
The protagonist is Salina Smalls (Sonia Hebe, channeling Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider), an actress starting a temp job at a company where everything is just slightly off. One woman talks at the speed of a runaway freighter (Grace Czerniawski, perfect); the mailroom clerk is basically catatonic (Roger Mulligan, hilarious), and the supervisor has a pained smile eternally plastered onto her face (Caitlin LeBarge). Even the other new temp (Sean Ward) changes awfully quickly. In fact, it's right after he takes a sip of coffee. Soon, Salina uncovers a plan passed down from upper management (Michael Rehse, nicely psychotic) that prompts her to take action. If Coffee\Evil went on for any longer than it does, it would grow tiresome. However, with a twenty-eight-minute running time, exposition is minimal and zany hilarity at its max. Ron Grimshaw directs his cast in the style of a door-slamming farce (minus the doors) and it works exceedingly well. Also noteworthy are the crazy-realistic fights (choreographed by Steve Walker), which use everyday office items — like a three-hole punch — as weapons. It really did look like Salina bashed one of her castmates over the head with it.
by Zachary Stewart
Americans love a good competition: Nothing tells this story better than the explosion of competitive reality TV shows in the last decade. But should everything be a competition? Does the competitive format cheapen more subjective pursuits, like art? Are the winners of such competitions the most talented in their field, or merely those who know how to best play the game? Enter Singing, Linda Evans' musical about a competition to find "the best playwright in America…and probably the world," asks these questions, but only in the most cursory way. The result is an undercooked and unsatisfying plot that leaves you asking, "So what?" Set in a theater "eight blocks from Broadway" (which is an accurate description of the Workshop Theater Main Stage), Enter Singing is about visionary Broadway director Princeton Hall (Kevin Christopher Martinez) and his quest to bolster "the serious play for the live stage" through his playwriting competition. Only four finalists remain: troublemaking journalist Sybil McCloud (Margaret Anne Baer), professor/lyricist Noah Silversteed (Derrick Parks), sketchball screenwriter Canary White (Philip Ramsey), and late-addition pregnant Cincinnatian Danielle Del Dante (Amanda Hart Walker). Talia Noelle is the most convincing of these characters as competition coordinator Bella Dagget Moore. Her nervous energy and perma-smile perfectly captures the overinvested den mother-type that is attracted to these competitions like a mosquito to a bug zapper.
The rest of the performances are far less invested as actors saunter into place to sing one unmemorable ballad of constantly ascending and descending scales after the next. There is scant rhyme or reason to the placement of these songs, which do little to further the plot. Romantic affairs and fits of jealousy crop up out of nowhere in this flighty script, leaving the actors unable to conjure significant chemistry to make any of it believable. "Bad, I want it so bad," they awkwardly chant throughout the show, as if to convince themselves more than the audience.
Director/composer/lyricist/book writer Evans has come up with a compelling concept with Enter Singing, but it is not nearly as developed as one would hope.