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I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!
Face the Music... and Dance!
part of
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!

Grammarians everywhere begin the slow sob into despondency when, in 2007, the felines of the world discovered a particularly succulent form of beef sandwich. Now theatregoers get to experience the roiling linguistic discomfort that can only come from the mangling of the English language pockmarked with meaningless songs and thrown onstage in some form of INVISIBLE DRAMATURGY. Yes, the bewildering result could only be called I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!, and it could be at home nowhere other than the New York International Fringe Festival.

In case you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid the lolcat craze, it involves human beings who should probably know better snapping digital photographs of their cats (or other wayward animals) in odd positions, adding a “funny” caption written with approximate spelling and sentence structure (the font of choice: Impact), and uploading it to a website to entertain the world. So all this show, which was written by Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg and includes additional music by Mike Gillespie, has to do is live up to those photos and it will play. And play it does, if never notably - this is an evening that’s not so much bad as it is obvious and pointless.

You know, even before taking your seat, that the lead character will be a cat desperate for a signature McDonald’s entrée. And if you’re an expert in the literature, you may even expect a cat waiting for a Quarter Pounder to fall from a hole in the ceiling, a tubby tabby with a Kraft Single on its face, or a walrus who’s inexplicably fond of buckets. You get all this, but not much more. Sure, there’s an arbitrary romance between the hero Mr. Whiskers (Seth Grugle) and the mouse (Carly Zien) that’s the CEO of the town’s only cheeseburger restaurant, and they may have to fight off the dastardly advances of the dangerously judgmental Mr. Wrong (Clint Carter), but there’s not enough complexity at work here to cough up a hairball.

The upside of that is that, except for a couple of brief swear words, the show is completely appropriate for family audiences. (Though I’d hasten to recommend the smarter, funnier, and free Click, Clack, Moo at the Lucille Lortel Theatre to anyone longing to see anthropomorphic animals sing and dance onstage this summer.) The downside is - well, pretty much everything else. The music is derivative of various sources, notably ‘50s doo-wop (for that bucket-loving walrus, played by Vincent DiGeronimo), and occasionally soul (for the calculator-wielding cat named Sumz, played by Lauren Knapf.) There’s no story and no characters to get behind, and thus few opportunities for director Karina Bennett and choreographer Erin Stutland beyond the obvious.

There’s also nothing for the extremely talented cast to play. Danielle Ryan and Melissa Bayern get some laughs out of playing (I’m not kidding) Epic Win and Epic Fail, in appropriately angelic and devilish costumes (by Matthew Wilson and Cathy Carrey-Aquino), but practically everything else is by rote. Everyone sings well and displays honed (if broad) musical-comedy sensibilities, but they can’t sink their teeth into a fancy feast of theatre that doesn’t exist in the first place.

The show’s true stars are the original I Can Has Cheezburger photos, which are projected almost continuously. Even if you question how anyone could possibly find these images consistently amusing over more than about 17 minutes, it’s hard not to find something to chuckle about in almost every one. But because the biggest laughs come from those pictures and not the scenes and songs, you’re guaranteed to leave I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! about as emotionally and intellectually starved as you undoubtedly will physically hungry.

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!
1 hour 20 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania


Face the Music... and Dance!

Attention Fringe-goers: Despite its title, the new dance revue Face the Music... and Dance! has nothing - I repeat, nothing - to do with Irving Berlin. In fact, don’t expect show tunes or traditional Broadway hoofing of any sort in this disjointed pentalogy of movement-borne semi-storytelling from five different choreographers. It has, instead, almost everything else on its mind.

With her opening piece, “Degas duck dag,” Noa Sagie explores the sexual, social, and societal servitude of women, as filtered through the Impressionistic impressions of painter Edgar Degas. Julian Barnett’s “Wooden Heart” considers a typical, contemporary male-female dating-and-mating ritual. Enlisting the help of three shakuhachi flute players, Maura Nguyen Donohue follows a steamy couple through the now-infamous Summer of Love in her “Jet Stream.” Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader inspired Heidi Latsky’s “What Would You Have Done?”, a mechanistic look at how men react to hatred and violence. As if in response, the finale (staged by Tina Croll, also the overall show’s director), called “The Stamping Ground,” posits a world in which we can all help each other grow, improve, and overcome even the blackest strife.

The dancers, particularly Jeffrey Freeze and Luke Murphy in Latsky’s hard-driving installment, are unassailably talented, and the dances themselves are inventive enough. But the seismic stylistic shifts between each chapter don’t much contribute to cohesion, and that makes the show as a whole rocky going - at least until the last 15 minutes or so, which pulse with a narrative vibrancy the earlier sections don’t. There’s a starkly effective dramatic contrast in the way you see two men fighting against the world one moment and an entire tribe of men and women giving of themselves to save it the next. Face the Music... and Dance! may be an acceptable showcase for its choreographers and performers, but it’s far from a good show. Maybe a dose or two of Irving Berlin distributed among the pop and international music selections might help after all?

Face the Music... and Dance!
1 hour 15 minutes
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TheaterMania