If you're not yet tired of ruthlessly (and pointlessly) self-referential musicals, or musicals where almost every song, joke, and performance lands with a colossal thud, by all means check out Granola! The Musical at the New York International Fringe Festival. If, however, you prefer your musicals with even vague approximations of real stories, real characters, and real songs, you're better off staying as far away as possible.
For the entirety of the show's two-hour running time, not a single honest word is spoken, not a single heartfelt emotion is sung. One can easily imagine Eric March - the show's composer, lyricist, orchestrator, librettist (based on a story by Matthew Rosenfeld), and director - sitting on his couch, chortling while coming up with a few dozen ideas for the show, each beginning with "Wouldn't it be funny if..." Judging from the final result, each and every one was incorporated into the show, apparently without the words "Would it be a good idea if..." ever crossing March's mind.
Wouldn't it be funny if the show were an Oklahoma!/Urinetown hybrid about granola farmers having their way of life threatened by a company called EvilCorp? Wouldn't it be funny if an actress ran around in a Grim Reaper suit for the entire show? Wouldn't it be funny to fill the dialogue with lines like, "I was just transitioning out of the last scene"? Wouldn't it be funny if a character makes up nonsense lyrics to a song because, of course, no one sings their thoughts in real life? Wouldn't it be funny if the head of EvilCorp was Russian, so he could sing a song called "Generic Russian Dance"? And so on.
Are any of these things good ideas? Perhaps, but when they're forced and overplayed as much as they are here, who can really say for certain? They're the sort of things you could expect to find in a musical written to be performed in a high school, which, unsurprisingly, is exactly how Granola! got its start: It was originally produced last year at Byram Hills High School in Armonk, New York. A few professional performers have been engaged to join the mostly amateur cast, but to say it's impossible to discern which are which should not be considered a compliment to the amateurs.
The sole watchable performance is given by Bonnie Lee, who plays the wise and knowing Granny, and who makes fervent attempts to both act her silly wisp of a role and sing at the same time. (In deference to her castmates' possible ambitions for successful theatre careers, they shall go unnamed.) At least the sets (by Josh Miller), costumes (by Amy Santo), and lights (Lance Hinrichs), while well in keeping with the show's highly amateur feeling, are serviceable, and the band (under Michael Rader's musical direction) generally sounds fine throughout.
The most concise method of describing Granola! The Musical might well be found in its second act opener, ostensibly a comedy song titled "What Are You Still Doing Here?" The chorus of the song is: "This play has hardly any plot / Its songs are pretty bad / The dialogue is hackneyed / And the drama's not too sad." Even more appropriately, the song ends with a stunning exhortation from one member of the chorus: "Go see Wicked!"
New York International Fringe Festival