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Greed: A Musical for Our Times

Modern materialism and self-indulgence become fodder for Michael Roberts' musical comedy at New World Stages.

James Donegan, Julia Burrows, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, and Neal Mayer in Michael Roberts' Greed: A Musical for Our Times, directed by Christopher Scott, at New World Stages.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Like an amuse-bouche, the title Greed: A Musical for Our Times is a mere taste of the grubby greediness to come — and yet the bitter flavor lingers for all 85 minutes of Michael Roberts' comedic musical revue. A long roster of theatrical vignettes takes us to every corner of society to point out each demographic as it enjoys its unique brand of moral depravity. From litigious beach bums to juiced-up athletes to hair-grabbing infants — there's a nondescript jazzy song for them all highlighting their insatiable need for the finer things in life. Titles like "It's Mine," "I Like Things," and "Passing the Mortgages" fill the bill, with lyrics that are occasionally clever but not biting or revelatory enough to make it worth our while to continue spinning through this revolving door of unlikeable characters.

Powering through all 19 high-energy numbers are four capable performers — belting blonde Julia Burrows and Avenue Q alum Stephanie D'Abruzzo representing the women and charming tenors James Donegan and Neal Mayer as the male contingency. In between ensemble numbers, each of the performers gets a fair share of featured roles or solo sequences that delve into the politically incorrect themes that fill up the nightly news. Burrows takes on a trailer-park-meets-Dolly-Parton persona for a welfare-inspired number entitled "Another Kid"; Donegan portrays the original Ponzi and croons a self-explanatory tune called "It's Bernie"; D'Abruzzo roasts the gouging medical system in "When I Saw the Doctor"; and Mayer puts on his papal mitre before a king-size crucifix to extol the infinitely "selfless" virtues of the Catholic Church in a tune called "God's Work."

Director Christopher Scott has taken this heap of overwritten songs and embellished them with equally overstated costumes by Dustin Cross and scenic design by Josh Iacovelli, who has lined the stage with a row of giant cardboard pennies. And just in case the theme hasn't already been drilled home, each actor takes a moment onstage for a "Betcha Didn't Know" segment where he or she reads a fascinating fact or statistic that illuminates just how mind-bogglingly greedy our celebrities, world leaders, and captains of industry truly are. The only element tying this erratic production together is the final number entitled "Remember," which, fittingly, reminds us that no amount of fame and fortune can buy happiness.

A general identity crisis overwhelms the production, which flashes from philosophical exploration of the nature and definition of greed, to a light musical farce, to a Schoolhouse Rock series on how to be a decent human being — or at the very least how not to be a terrible one. Unfortunately, the content lacks depth, and in all likelihood, would have left Bernie Madoff completely nonplussed.