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The Overdevelopment of Scott

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Given that The Overdevelopment of Scott bills itself as an anti-musical, chances are that criticisms of its numerous false rhymes and improperly stressed lyrics would be more or less beside the point. Still, this show seems content to remain within the mediocrity that many other shows in the ever-expanding genre of musicals that don't want to acknowledge they're musicals at least try to avoid.

But if lacks even the subtlety of one of its more obvious inspirations - Urinetown - the show, written and directed by Sharon Fogarty and being produced in this year's Midtown International Theatre Festival, has creativity to spare. Its central idea, if perhaps not ideal for the stage (musical or otherwise), has been proven to have the dramatic heft necessary to drive episodes of television shows like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone.

Specifically, that a group of human lab rats rise from their captivity and threaten to overwhelm their oppressors and find success in the world. In a world where genetic manipulation is something of a frightening reality, these lab rats have all been specifically born and bred for certain tests. One, for example, was designed for experiments on sexual addiction, another was raised by sitcoms and game shows, while others are designed for treating eating disorders, testing the effects of smoking, cosmetic trials, and so on.

These human "rats" have developed all the neuroses and psychological problems associated with their various addictions and conditions because they have been deprived of the one thing that may have helped them through: love. This is where the Scott of the title comes in, himself a "recycled" lab rat, originally bred for surviving monotonous, repetitive jobs, yet now possessing of a conscience and affection for others that threatens the entire experiment.

The show starts off interestingly enough, with the experiment's two technicians leading a musical demonstration of their charges' abilities entitled "Gene Machine," but it's one of only two moments of dramatic musical invention. (The other occurs at the end of the show, "Gene Machine"'s functional opposite, helping almost create a framing device for the show.) The others are a somewhat dulling, rambling collection of maudlin ballads, tributes to addiction, and even an unashamed "I hate Broadway musicals" number that feels more out of place than most of the production numbers it tries to send up.

This being an "anti-musical," the casting of ten central actors with highly untrained (if never unpleasant) singing voices was no doubt intentional, but their acting performances - even on their own terms of mocking overly-presentational musical acting styles - aren't much better. Steve Deighan and Timothy P. Daly as the technicians come off the worst, as many of their lines are devoted to commanding doors to open or endless recitations of technobabble. They're also players in a thoroughly underdeveloped love plot, but in an anti-musical, no one's really supposed to care, right?

But the rats' characters and their actors come across much better, even achieving - sorry, Ms. Fogarty - heart at times. Susie Thiel, as the born listener was the most consistent, Danielle Montezinos as the sex addict was the funniest. Jason Grossman brought a strong speaking voice and good imitations to his TV-driven rat, and Donna Heffeman's smoking addict was fine. Sanjay Kaul, raised on violent TV programming, is perhaps the show's finest example of a potentially interesting idea left almost completely unexplored.

It's perhaps ironic that the show's finest performance comes from Fogarty herself, who reads the operating computer's monotonic lines and plays the guitar in the show's two-piece band. Her program bio boasts that she's written "dozens of other anti-musicals," so she's working in the genre she loves, even if The Overdevelopment of Scott is not particularly effective. Anti-musical or no, the show is one of missed opportunities, with a potentially fascinating idea left, ironically, underdeveloped.

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Fourth Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
The Overdevelopment of Scott
Through August 3
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Abingdon Theater Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.279.4200