Book, Music, and Lyrics by Gerard Alessandrini and Robert Hetzel
“Based on the 1905 play by Alexandre Bisson…and every movie and music between 1946 and 1966”
It is possible that I’m not old enough or gay enough to get all of the references in Madame X. I do know that it’s (clearly) a musical adaptation of Bisson’s play, which has been filmed more than ten times (most notably in 1966 with Lana Turner in the title role). And I get that it’s also playing on the melodramatic work of filmmakers like Douglas Sirk. But I suspect that there are bits that I’m not getting here and there, and the dead (and half-empty to boot) audience today didn’t really help. It’s still funny, though, although the show really doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Is it a serious homage to these works, a la Far From Heaven? (Which is itself under development as a musical at Playwrights Horizons, with a book by Richard Greenberg and a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie.) Or is it a campy spoof, as one might find more expected from the creator of Forbidden Broadway? It’s not entirely clear.
What is entirely clear is that the cast is ridiculously good: Alessandrini (who also directs) knows a lot of the funniest people in the business, so we get them. Donna English is terrific as the much-wronged woman of the title (even if much of the score seems to sit in an awkward place in her voice), Janet Dickinson is relishably evil as her monster-in-law, and Forbidden alumni Michael West and James Donegan (replacing Ed Staudenmayer) are hoots in multiple roles. (West is particularly memorable as a an agent with a voice so ridiculously mannered as to be nearly indecipherable.) There are plenty of good songs, too—the insanely catchy “Everything’s Green in Greenwich” and even some genuine ballads in Act II, “There’s Always a Man (But Never a Name)” and “Never Let Them Know.” I could have done with a few fewer repetitions of the title song, though. (And if anyone out there can prove that Robert Hetzel actually exists, I’d be grateful. His bio provides almost no information and Googling him turns up nothing.)
SCORE: 5 out of 10
Just Like Magic
Book by Christopher W. Barnes and Cameron Cole
Music by Ryan Mercy
Lyrics by Christopher W. Barnes
To call Just Like Magic a children’s show for grownups is both a little reductive and totally right. It’s framed as a birthday party magic show being given by the panicky, semi-ept Christopher T. Magician for a birthday boy (or girl) whose mother works for Nickelodeon. Not that he has any sort of ulterior motive or anything. Nosiree bob. Christopher is assisted by pianist Ryan Lipnicky, a silent, stone-faced teenager dying of Ryan Lipnicky’s Disease and present courtesy of the Make-a-Wish Foundation (“He wanted to play piano for his favorite magician,” Christopher explains, “but instead he’s here with us”) and a pair of puppets, Sammy the Safety Donut (played by a bagel) and a dickish dodo named Jojo. And then things start spiraling out of control. Oy vey.
Just Like Magic is only sort of a musical—there’s a full complement of songs, but all of them are performed in the context of Christopher’s act, so they’re all diegetic. (And most of them are little more than serviceable—only “Never a Rabbit” really stands out.) It is, however, hilariously funny, loaded with brilliantly terrible puns, riotous stage business, and the insanely ingratiating performance of Barnes as Christopher. There’s also a lot of audience participation, but Barnes is a gifted improviser (and it’s a good thing, too, considering some of the audience that participated tonight). My main complaint is that I wish that the show had gotten more inappropriate and fucked up than it did—not that I’m against the surprisingly sweet ending (I’m not), but the darkness takes too long to emerge as it is. But other people may not have that problem—I really like feeling uncomfortable sometimes at the theatre.
SCORE: 6 out of 10.