The topical musical revue is hardly a new form, if no longer as prevalent as it once was. But there's little point in telling that to Rick Crom, who's somewhat established himself as a writer of topical songs, and whose What in the World: The NEWSical Revue has just opened at the John Houseman Studio Theatre.
Whatever else may be said about What in the World, it succeeds in demonstrating Crom's songwriting prowess; the 24 or so songs in the show reveal him as a deft lyricist and resourceful composer, exactly the type of person who should be writing shows like this one. He's capable of finding a joke and a song in just about anything, and while any revue has its share of song successes and failures, Crom's numbers generally hit more often than they miss.
As a note in the show's program points out, the material in What in the World is constantly changing, so you may not see exactly the songstack I did. At the performance I attended, Crom's weaker songs usually failed to land with full force for one of two reasons: Either they carry on one joke for too long, or they deal with material too generic to really benefit a show deriving its comedy from what's happening right now. Songs about Michael Jackson or three dead Kennedys peering down at Arnold Schwarzenegger from Heaven seemed ideal for this format, while numbers about the proliferation of plastic surgery and jokes about Linda Tripp were less so, and could have fit as easily into a show like this four years ago.
Still, Crom's skewering of current news and newsmakers is creative enough to sustain a 90-minute show, and What in the World never bores or strains too heavily for a prolonged period of time. Director Collette Black keeps each song moving, but doesn't always negotiate the transitions well: more than once the audience is left sitting in the dark while the performers scurry around backstage changing into their next costumes, and this tends to bog down a show that otherwise thrives on its quick pacing.
What in the World certainly benefits from its talented four-person cast; Christopher Regan, Eadie Scott, Kelly Howe, and John Flynn all have keen comic sensibilities and great singing voices. Each plays a wide variety of characters and has a number of moments that set him or her apart, if only for a few minutes. Of particular note were Scott's hilarious depictions of Anna Nicole Smith and a violent Liza Minnelli, Howe's subdued Michael Jackson, Regan's acidic Dr. Phil, and Flynn's self-mockingly caricaturish President Bush. The actors greatly benefit from John McMahon's terrific musical direction and arranging and costume designer David Kaley's vast array of colorful and appropriate outfits.
But it's difficult to walk away from What in the World without a thorough appreciation of Crom's talents and the deliciously offbeat sense of humor he brings to all of his work here. Whether it's depicting a couple of Catholic priests attempting to recruit while avoiding unfortunate double entendres, or the King of Pop's meeting with Peter Pan, a tribute to lesbian celebrities, or a beautiful and almost sweet tribute to the art of being in denial, Crom has a unique outlook and the talent to bring it to life onstage.
What In The World: The Newsical Revue