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Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue Presents 'The Brontës'; Life Could Be A Dream; Swiss Family Robinson – A Musical Adventure

TheaterMania's NYMF review coverage kicks off with three new musicals. logo

Matthew Schleigh and Steve McWilliams
Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue)
Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue Presents ‘The Brontës'
by Bethany Rickwald

Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue Presents ‘The Brontës' is a American rock' 'n' roll/Victorian English literature extravaganza that examines the lives and works of the four youngest Brontë siblings: authors Charlotte, Emily, and Anne as well as their brother, Branwell. Written by Debra Buonaccorsi (who also plays Charlotte), with music and lyrics by Buonaccorsi and Steve McWilliams (also one of the show's musicians/carnies), the unrefined story features moments of humor and sharp wit.

Fans of the Brontës will enjoy seeing this literary family brought lovingly to life; however, Miss Lizzie's is not the place to go if you're looking for a history lesson (or hoping to skip reading the books and still pass tenth-grade English). The confusing and uneven plot deals with a group of magical travelers who arrive at the Brontës' home one stormy night to shepherd them through the ends of their masterpieces and out of their mortal coils. Each of the siblings' stories is dealt with separately and differently. Sometimes their life's story is ignored all together in favor of acting out the plot of a famous book (while often the books are abandoned entirely in favor of repetitive tunes revealing insipid inner-monologues).

The piece as a whole is lively and absorbing, thanks largely to a cast willing to throw themselves into their nineteenth-century rocker-angst-ridden characters with impressive abandon. Gillian Shelly's gypsy character in particular is a captivating mix of hilarious and disquieting — a perfect epicenter for a play that tells four brightly tragic tales in less than 90 minutes.

Daniel Tatar (Denny), Jim Holdridge (Eugene), and Ryan Castellino (Wally).
(© Michael Lamont)
Life Could Be A Dream
by Bethany Rickwald

Life Could Be A Dream is a jukebox musical written by Roger Bean, the creator of the off-Broadway hit The Marvelous Wonderettes. It is a sort-of prequel to that piece, and the boys of Denny and the Dreamers, the vocal group at the center of Life Could Be A Dream, live in the same 1950/'60s doo-wop and saddle-shoes world as the characters of The Marvelous Wonderettes.

The plot is what one might expect from a musical built around the popular music of the Baby Boomer generation, with the action revolving around songs like "Mama Don't Allow It," "Fools Fall in Love," and "The Glory of Love." In fact, the program's long list of musical numbers is enough to make you fall right off your soda-fountain stool, but the stellar five-person cast tees up and hits each number out of the park in amazing rapid succession. Each actor fits perfectly into his or her role, from the loveably dweeby Eugene (Jim Holdridge) to the distractingly hunky heartthrob Skip (Doug Carpenter).

The straightforward story and simple dialogue are nothing that a couple of hip swivels and a well-timed smooches don't more than make up for. All of the elements of Life Could be a Dream come together to create a simple production that feels bigger than its single set and small cast. It's no doubt Denny and the Dreamers will be delighting audiences for years to come.

Matt Mundy (Jack), Elisa Van Duyne (Elizabeth), Paul DeBoy (John), Michael Lorz (Ernst), and Sergio Pasquariello (Fritz).
(© Seth Walters)
Swiss Family Robinson – A Musical Adventure
by Zachary Stewart

For brothers John, Patrick, and Walter Kennedy, musical theater is a family affair. John writes, Patrick directs, and Walter choreographs in their new show Swiss Family Robinson – A Musical Adventure, now playing in the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. Unfortunately, unlike their subject family, the Kennedys are not nearly as successful in their endeavors.

Based on the 1812 novel by Johann David Wyss, Swiss Family Robinson is about a family of Swiss refugees fleeing the French army. En route to Australia, they are shipwrecked on a tropical island. With the help of British Admiral's daughter Emily Montrose (Jessie Shelton) they decide to build a tree fortress and turn the island into paradise. Along the way they have to contend with French pirates led by the buffoonish Francois DuBois (Patrick Oliver Jones) and the Hufi, a tribe of Amazons led by Queen Kiku Mono Hoa (Barbara Tirrell).

But really, what chance do these comically inept adversaries have against this habitually cheerful and industrious Swiss family? With the exception of wayward middle child Jack (Matt Mundy), the family seems pleased as punch to be stranded on this island together, leaving the stakes woefully low in this snore-inducing show. To pass the time, the actors sing a whopping 30 songs, many of which have the same sea-shanty air about them. The ballads are riddled with saccharine clichés like, "Switzerland is anywhere I go with you."

Dramaturgically speaking, about half of them could be cut. They do nothing to progress the plot and seem only an excuse to engage in several more minutes of forced and repetitive choreography. In the second act, as one unmemorable jaunty march transitioned to the next, I found myself silently screaming for it all to end.