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Fringe NYC 2009: Roundup #6

Reports on Baby Wants Candy, Far Out, and Gutter Star. logo
The cast of Baby Wants Candy
(© Lisa Ackerman)
[Ed. Note: This is the sixth in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the 13th annual New York International Fringe Festival.]


The funniest musical I've seen in some time is A Scotsman in Thailand - and it closed on opening night. As surely as this was a tragedy, it was also unavoidable -- since Scotsman was the ad hoc work of Baby Wants Candy, an outstanding musical improvisation troupe from Chicago, now at the Players Theatre.

As near as I can tell, the group sketches out a few basics ahead of time -- but besides deciding who will have the first solo or the nominal leads, it's all improvised. The audience shouts out a title, and away we go.

At the performance I witnessed, A Scotsman in Thailand became a gender-bending tale of a highlander romancing a whore. Yep, this is R-rated improv, with characters including a sexually compulsive world traveler, a female pimp with Hollywood dreams, and a parade of anthropomorphized travel gear. (In case you were wondering, all bags, backpacks, and fannypacks are gay and they're jealous.)

The company is delightful from top-to-bottom. They're open, generous, and as dexterous as the best improv group should be. The spot-on-band (Steve Jacobs, David Andrew Moore, Jody Shelton, and Johnny Pisano) is a jack of all genres -- and a master of them, too.

-- Adam R. Perlman

Ashleigh Davidson, Nick Adams, and Tiffan Borelli in Far Out
(© Alden Fulcomer)

Unlike most works about invaders from deep space, the question raised by Far Out, now at the Minetta Lane, isn't whether there's intelligent life on other planets, but whether there's any left on this one! This flatly written, flatly directed attempt at 1950s camp may not be the most inept show I've seen, but at least, amateurism would have given it an excuse. Instead, the producers have misspent costuming and choreography (not to mention cash) on this misguided project, and the effect is a lot like putting lipstick on a pig.

The witless script -- courtesy of Michael Chartier (who did the lyrics) and Brian Breen (who ripped off the music from riffs in Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, and a dozen other, better shows) -- has something to do with aliens disrupting the high school love triangle of jock (Nick Adams), nerd (Spencer Liff), and saddle shoes (Tiffan Borelli). And while this is the 1950s, most of the aliens are dressed like they're in the 1980s band Devo, with their leader appearing as a hybrid of 1970s Tina Turner and a lobster.

The cast can't rise above the material. In particular, Adams comes off as something like a male Pamela Anderson, but without the self-aware sense of humor. Meanwhile, director Kimothy Cruse lacks the blithe, breezy affinity for camp from which the show could benefit as it lurches uncertainly from one ill-conceived moment to the next.

-- Adam R. Perlman

Nikki Van Cassele and Deborah Tranelli in Gutter Star
(© Linda Wielkotz)

Gutter Star: The Paperback Musical, at the Minetta Lane, not only doesn't have anything to do with the line from Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan that goes, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars," it's an inchoate waste of 55 precious minutes written at gutter level and which consistently fixes its aspirations there.

The show, which features a book by choreographer Jack Dyville, is about a fictitious 1950s-era movie star -- and secret lesbian -- named Darla Storme (the usually wonderful Deborah Tranelli), who emerges from the closet one night to visit a private club where girlfriend Brenda Sparks (Nikki Van Cassele) performs. Because press photographer are on hand -- as is studio yes-man Don DiCario (Paul Ryan) in drag -- word of Storme's indiscretion gets back to movie mogul Bernard Levine (David Gillam Fuller), who buys up the photos, and then strong-arms the dallying diva to cancel her contract and return to the Hollywood gutter.

Of the many ridiculous moments, perhaps there's none moreso than when it's declared that Storme may never climb up the Tinseltown ladder again and will be remembered only "as a Hollywood legend." Which is not a bad way to be remembered, many will feel.

What won't be remembered, however, is this show's thoroughly undistinguished score. The lusterless lyrics are by Fuller, while the music, such as it is, comes from James Mack Avery. Eric M. Schussel directs, albeit without any aptitude of his own to flaunt. Even if there's enough blame to go around, there's no excuse for this sort of dire entertainment.

-- David Finkle


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