Music by Judd Woldin
Lyrics by Richard Engquist
Book by Judd Woldin and Richard Engquist
Lorenzo Da Ponte--the fellow who wrote the libretti for, among other less known works, Le Nozze di Figaro, Così Fan Tutte, and Don Giovanni--lived quite an interesting life. That's about all that you'll get from this long-aborning show (a note in the program indicates that Woldin and Engquist started working on it more than 30 years ago)--while it is temperamentally and tonally a musical comedy, there are no laughs. The book is structurally solid, but nothing more than that--it tells the story of Lorenzo's life from childhood to his 50s, when he left Europe for the United States (it ends with him getting on the boat, omitting (perhaps understandably) his later career as the first professor of Italian Literature at Columbia), but nothing more. Every moment is devoted solely to moving the story forward--it's over in 80 swift minutes, but at what cost?
The score is perfectly pleasant and little more--Woldin's music apes Mozart and Donizetti here, rather than the funk rhythms he more effectively appropriated 36 years ago for his score of Raisin, and Engquist's lyrics are clever enough without being good enough to stand out.
The cast is excellent, led by the extraordinarily strong voices of Peter Reardon, Trisha Rapier, and Craig Shulman (a longtime Broadway Valjean who was my favorite of the three I saw over the years). Christopher Scott's staging is swift and clever, making excellent use of Adam Koch's backstage set. Steven Gross's lamentably overamplified keyboard is the sole accompaniment, which makes perfect sense given the nature of the material (it's set as a rehearsal of a piece Da Ponte has written based on his own life). Would that it were an actual piano and that it and the actors had gone unmiked--they wouldn't have had any problem.
SCORE: 4 out of 10
The Happy Embalmer
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Mark Noonan and Nick Oddy
I'm seriously not quite sure what to say about this one. It's not bad--I had a pretty good time. But it's just that goddamned bizarre. In short, it's about an embalmer, Edward Nando, who accidentally develops the ability to bring the dead back to life--right in time for the dead body of his life-long love Emily to show up on the doorstep of his family's funeral home, which a rival conglomerate is trying to buy (the business, not the body). The Dalai Lama wants this power, because he's developed a lust for fame and is building a new global brand for himself under the name DLa. (Y'know, like JLo.) DLa's former student and archenemy is the great embalmer Professor Pasternov, who also happens to have been Edward's mentor and professor. (Apparently Macalester has a world-class program in the embalming arts and sciences. Who knew?) So Pasternov sends his incredibly handsome assistant Todd to bring Ed (along with the now revived (and decidedly randy) Emily to the good(?) professor's happy home in the tropical paradise of...Iceland. And there's a scene involving weaponized tofu, a production number about how great a dead body looks, and a theme song.
It's that kind of show.
Obviously, Noonan and Oddy are going for a Bat Boy vibe here--the macabre-weird-funny tones are similar--but The Happy Embalmer simply isn't as well-constructed as that show, and lord knows that the songs aren't as good. Not that they're bad--there are a couple of clever uptempos (the opening "She Looks Great," the amusing "Cash"), some hilariously overwrought power ballads ("The Embalmer's Lament" and "The Light in Your Eyes," the latter with an awfully funny sight gag I won't spoil), and a surprisingly beautiful--and even more suprisingly earnest--song toward the end with the odd title of "Auroraboraroraborealis."
Thankfully, the material is given a top-flight production under the direction of Kelly Devine, who also provides riotously funny choreography. The chief design element is a quartet of video screens on the back wall, showing off Austin Switser's excellent video projections (used, thankfully, for more than just backdrops). Daniel Reichard is amusingly dour as Ed; Megan Sikora, as Emily, proves that she should've played Hope Cladwell somewhere, because she would've been a hoot and a half. (Also: holy crap she's hot.)
SCORE: 6 out of 10
Music by Matthew roi Berger
Lyrics by Randy Blair
book by Randy Blair and Timothy Michael Drucker
Due to the fact that Randy is a friend, I will recuse myself from in-depth comment or scoring. What I will say is that I had a fantastic time and laughed harder than I have in a long time. The show is not without its flaws at this point, but it's a hell of a lot of fun as it is.