Talkin' Broadway HomePast ColumnsAbout





Off Broadway


Castronauts

The Road to Ruin

Part of The New York Musical Theatre Festival

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Castronauts

With immigration, especially the illegal kind, such a hot-button issue today, it’s not surprising a musical is not only trying to tackle it, but doing so from the trendier non-American perspective. Castronauts, however, penned by Patricio Bisso (book), Bobby Houston (book and lyrics), and Randy Courts (music) makes a much stronger case than it intends for triteness about any nationality as far away as possible from United States shores.

That Fidel Castro is played by a drag king, who comically expires at the end of the first act at the hands of a drag queen named Lolita (Hechter Ubarry) following one of several gratuitous cabaret numbers is emblematic of the show’s opinions about presenting politics to its audience: Make ‘em beg for less, and then don’t give it to ‘em.

The rest of the time, you’re saddled with an intractable story about the denizens of the tawdry Club Voodoo escaping to the U.S. and setting up their broken-down nightclub here. It’s never clear, though, why this is supposed to be a good thing, or why Castro is supposed to be a bad thing. Depicting a murderous dictator as nothing more than a funny beard and glasses doesn’t make your case, it destroys it, even if it underlines the show’s (inordinately vague) central theme of identity being little more than a function of location: Where you are often determines who you are.

But because Castronauts spends so much time ambling about nowhere, few involved with it have a chance to take you anywhere. With the exception of Terry Lavell as an attitude-rich bitchy second drag queen, the casting is as lifeless as the writing; Ubarry’s emcee is so lethargic, you can’t imagine her summoning up enough energy to rent the movie of Cabaret via Netflix. The other performers, who include April Ortiz as Lolita’s gratingly ancient mother, and Guto Bittencourt as a dream-laden young man of indeterminate parentage, make only intermittent impressions before fading again into the background and underscoring of Courts’s flavorless Latin rhythms.

Director-choreographer Will Pomerantz ensures that the rest of the show never delves much deeper than does its cast, and keeps any excitement from coming across the footlights. What might hit you, literally, are the tortillas and toilet paper the actors occasionally hurl at you from the stage. That this hopelessly trashy show would resort to real trash is not that surprising: Can America’s embargo of the nation extend to musicals about it, too?

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival




The Road to Ruin

Note to would-be musical writers: Parodying something that already practically parodies itself is harder than it looks. If you just throw everything at the wall to see what sticks, you’ll generally be left with a huge mess that probably looks a lot like William Zeffiro’s musical The Road to Ruin.

Ostensibly a takeoff of 1920s and 1930s exploitation films that used moral lessons (“Don’t smoke, drink, have sex, or chew gum!”) as flimsy excuses for titillation, Zeffiro’s rendering is instead so destructively self-aware its winking could be mistaken for eye spasms. Five-minute commercials for Jesus, Spanish Fly, and radium-infused health tonic kill most potential enjoyment before it begins; big group numbers about strip poker and random hookups and heartless solos from the central good-girl-gone-bad Sally Canfield and other assorted underworld folk make for a show that, running an unconscionable two hours, is as rudderless as it is endless.

Directed and choreographed (by Mary Catherine Burke and Shea Sullivan) as if it were a wake, The Road to Ruin is notable only for ruthlessly squandering two brilliant Broadway stars: Brooke Sunny Moriber, as the soon-to-fall Sally, and Ann Morrison, as her new-age-addled mother. Performers of this caliber need to be given things to play, not things not to: Their talents for finding arch complexities in serious-minded works like The Wild Party or Merrily We Roll Along atrophy in a show like this, for which “edgy” is a bit of offensively Oriental excrescence called “It’s a Sad Old Song,” sung - as is everything here - for no reason at all.

That’s not to say that “no reason” can’t be reason enough, but you need either a point of view (as did Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney in their similar treatment of the similarly exploitative Reefer Madness) or wall-to-wall laughs to justify it. The Road to Ruin has neither - in aiming for everything rather than settling for something, it ends up with nothing.

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival