Book by Jeff Hochhauser
Music by Bob Johnston
Lyrics by Jeff Hochhauser and Bob Johnston
Based on the book Letters of a Hoofer to His Ma by Jack Donahue
I'm less objective about this show than most, as I know Jeff; he's not a close friend, though, so this isn't a situation like Starfighter. I first saw Mud Donahue almost six years ago, in a reading of its first draft at the York—it was a delight then, and it's still a delight now. It's slender, and could probably be improved by dropping the intermission, but it's a lot of fun. Shonn Wiley is charming and dances superbly (not that that's news), and Karen Murphy sings the roof off.
Such Good Friends
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Noel Katz
A smart musical comedy about a serious subject, with good songs and characters who actually seem like real people? That's what Such Good Friends—which concerns a group of friends, all working on a 1950s-era TV variety show, who are called before HUAC—aims to be. What it actually is is a lot more like an outline for a good musical: both book and score feel skimpy, with plots (both primary and sub-) left undeveloped and songs ended practically before they've begun (not surprising, considering that 29 songs (plus an overture) are crammed into a show that lasts barely over 90 minutes (and has an intermission anyway)). A lot of what's there is very smart (much of the dialogue, and two especially good songs, “You're a Red” and “My Name Is Mud”), but there just isn't a lot there in the first place. The plot is heavily bottom-loaded (with barely even exposition in Act I), and too much of the fully-explored material is simply extraneous (a dim-witted song called “Mountain Air” could be cut immediately, for one). It's far from unfixable, though, and it's even probably worth fixing. Liz Larsen gives a powerhouse performance as the TV show's star, and Brad Oscar is excellent as her weak director, but Jeff Talbott, as the head writer, is convincing but seriously lacks the voice for his two big numbers. Lynne Wintersteller is always lovely to see, but she has all of about seven minutes' worth of stage time in a gruesomely underwritten role.
Book, Music, and Lyrics by John Gregor
Now, this is more like it. With Glee began its life as Gregor's thesis at NYU Grad; I first saw it five years ago in a reading at the York, where it was charming (and had a cast that included Jesse Tyler Ferguson and various others). The years have only improved the boarding school-set comedy—almost nothing in the text of the show has changed (the intermission was removed, a new finale was written, and a few edits were made here and there), but the charm is there in spades, and Ryan Mekenian's production—initially seen at NYU's Skirball Center last June—has all of the appeal and sweetness of a basketful of puppies. The entire cast is splendid: to wit, Greg Kenna (the central, attention-seeking Nathaniel), Ryan Speakman (lower-class Sam), Justin Bellero (upper-class, super-rich Scott), Kevin Michael Murphy (fey, theatre-loving Kip), and Dan Lawler (the downright weird Clay, who is disturbingly attached to a toy boat named Mortimer), with Michael J. Miller and Elizabeth Kerins as a variety of adults. (All seven—not to mention everybody else involved with the production (aside from producer Wiley Hausam—are recent graduates or current students at NYU. In a full production, it might be nice to have the adults played by substantially older actors (as was the case at the York), but for this, it's fine.) Gregor's work is thoroughly lovely, not to mention hilarious and—gasp!--completely free of any irony. It's an honest-to-goodness musical comedy that's unapologetic about that, and that's something to be applauded in this day and age. Anyone not humming the opening “Bad Kid School” or the show-stopping “Normal” afterwards is not someone I want to know.