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FringeNYC 2011 Review Roundup #1

Reports on Winner Take All (A Rock Opera), Parker & Dizzy's Fabulous Journey To the End Of the Rainbow, I Will Be Good, and Happy Worst Day Ever.

[Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of roundups on the 2011 New York International Fringe Festival.]
Jared Zirilli and Anna Eilinsfeld
in Winner Take All (A Rock Opera)
(© Tristan Fuge)
Heaven and Hell engage in a battle of the bands in Winner Take All (A Rock Opera), at the Bleecker Theatre. Featuring a book and score by Claudia Brevis and Skip Brevis, with direction and choreography by John Carrafa, the piece has some amusing moments, but loses steam well before the final confrontation.

The musical centers on star-crossed lovers Catie (Anna Eilinsfeld) and Ricky (Jared Zirilli), whose time on Earth is cut short by the latter's death in a motorcycle accident. Ricky finds himself admitted -- without an audition -- to Rock 'n' Roll Heaven, but would do anything to get Catie back, possibly even making a deal with the Devil (Brian Charles Rooney).

Zirilli has a sweet tenor that is showcased nicely in several numbers. But while Eilinsfeld has an okay singing voice, it does not have anywhere near the power and range that it should, given the role that Catie ends up playing in the final conflict. Indeed, the most impressive voice on stage belongs to Jacquelyn Graham as Sally, one of the angels.

Carrafa's staging is at its best when it emphasizes the show's whimsical elements, aided by scenic designer Neil Patel, whose work here has a bare-bones simplicity appropriate to the fringe. The way that the audience is first visually clued in to Ricky's arrival in Heaven is of particular delight. Unfortunately, the pacing starts to get sluggish as the piece turns more earnest.

The score samples from a diverse array of genres, including pop, rock, gospel, hip-hop, doo-wop, and even disco. But while the music is pleasant and even fun to listen to, the melodies are too derivative to make a lasting impression.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Joey Mirabile, Peter Zachari, and Rodiney Santiago
in Parker & Dizzy's Fabulous Journey...
(© Beatrice LaBarge)
Parker & Dizzy's Fabulous Journey To the End Of the Rainbow, at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre, is a fun, messy musical that gives little thought to dramatic continuity and structure -- and even less to clear sound design -- but does provide a two hour-plus series of show stoppers from an intriguing list of gay mini-icons.

This queer theater epic, with a twist of vaudeville, has a convoluted plot about a mysterious alliance that apparently protects the gay community using an energy called The Fierce. Trouble is afoot when an elite member of this alliance, a drag diva played with verve by Hedda Lettuce, is murdered by a shadowy (albeit mad hot) stranger (played by Rodiney Santiago).

This launches two of the victim's friends, the Parker and Dizzy of the title (Peter Zachari and Joey Mirabile), on a journey that, as the press materials explain, is what you would get if The Wizard of Oz had a foursome with Star Wars, Thelma & Louise, and The Da Vinci Code. Along the way, they must contend with a Joan Crawford clone (performed by a multi-skilled Sam Given), a dreaded disco stick, and a villain (played by Brian Bailey), who -- well, suffice it to say that if I revealed that character's identity, it would constitute a double spoiler.

Zachari is not only the star of this show, he is also the producer, director, playwright, and, with Damon Maida, the co-composer/lyricist. He is an extremely engaging performer whose delight in these proceedings (along with his fabulously talented sidekick, Mirabile) is infectious. And a number of the tunes that he's written with Maida are actually quite catchy, especially those with a country-western spin.

The overall production values are about what you'd expect from a Fringe show, but a special shout out goes to the costume designs of Mark Richard Caswell, who demonstrates a lot of low-budget ingenuity.

-- Andy Buck

Tricia Rose Burt in I Will Be Good
(© Deb Porter-Hayes)
Tricia Rose Burt's autobiographical solo show I Will Be Good, at the Players Theatre, not only suffers from a lack of dramatic drive, but her stories about-growing up in the South, marrying the wrong man too young, and abandoning her passion for a safe career are presented in such a self-indulgent way that it's hard to understand why anyone outside of her circle of friends and family would care.

There isn't much holding the solo show together except this vague idea that throughout her life, Burt has made decisions based not on what she thinks would make her happy but what is good as defined by the very conservative Southern clique in which she was raised. While this appears to have been a revelation for the middle-aged writer and performer, we only get a muddled down version of the catharsis.

Clocking in at around 80 minutes, Good feels much, much longer. Burt paints herself into a dramatic abyss with a string of lackluster stories, Powerpoint presentations, and awkward recreations of moments from her youth. Towards the end of the piece, she displays an odd piece of art she made, and while the nature and meaning of it is puzzling, it finally plants the slightest seed of wonder inside us.

-- Chris Kompanek

Dana Brooke, Jacob Moore, Kelly Pekar, and Mark St. Cyr
in Happy Worst Day Ever
(© Tony Arrasmith)
An adult actor attempting to portray a child can be extremely annoying, as is the case in Arlene Hutton's Happy Worst Day Ever, at the 4th Street Theatre. And in this work, which focuses on a quartet of sixth graders, the worst offender is Dana Brooke as Glorie, who speaks in an exaggerated "kiddie" voice and tends to overplay all of her mannerisms.

Glorie is a student with below average grades who is obsessed with who will win an American Idol-like television contest. She is tutored by fellow student Jacob (nicely underplayed by Mark St. Cyr), who wants desperately for his father, a soldier, to come home in time for Jacob's birthday. Added into the mix are Glorie's best friend Emma (Kelly Pekar), and Jacob's only friend, Chris (Jacob Moore).

Hutton's script paints Glorie and Emma as broad caricatures, even if she does allow for a bit of growth by show's end. The work is more successful in depicting Jacob, who is the most fully fleshed out character. An African-American boy whose mother works in the school's cafeteria, Jacob has a racial and class background that sets him apart from the rest of his peers and also seems to give him a drive that they lack.

The play is one of four festival offerings marked "Fringe Jr.," and aimed more at children than adults. It contains some easily digestible lessons that kids can take away, but seems lacking in any real insight.

-- Dan Bacalzo