A bright, sunny new musical comedy Suburb has arrived at The York Theatre Company to warm us up during the last bitterly cold tugs of winter. This cheerful homage to the suburban life style treats the audience to clever lyrics, tuneful music, an entertaining book and a show stopping performance by Alix Korey, that should not be missed.
Ms. Korey’s portrayal of the brassy, tough as nails with a heart of gold, “Rhoda, the Realtor” is a show stealer from start to finish. She drags on a cigarette as though it were a life support system, and her antenna is clearly up as she waits to pounce on her next possible sale.
Directly in her vision, as Suburb unfolds, is a confused urban couple with a baby on the way. Stuart, boyishly played by James Ludwig, wants a house in Suburb with a lawn and a barbecue pit, while his pregnant and petulant career oriented wife, Alison (Jacquelyn Piro), wants to stay in the city. So what’s a realtor to do? Show slides of course, from split-levels to “a genuine Victorian built in 1975,” as she waits for a crack in Alison’s armor. Statements like “too much land can be isolating” flow like honey from her lips. The woman has no shame, and the audience can’t get enough of her. When Alex Korey is on stage, at the York Theater, all is right with the world of Suburb.
Suburb is the name of a town somewhere outside the concrete landscape, fast paced lifestyle, and excitingly diverse ethnicity of the big city. It is where you raise your family, mow your lawn, barbecue big chunks of meat, go to the mall and spend huge blocks of time commuting to and from the city you are trying to escape.
Clever songs covering each of these topics are performed by an energetic ensemble of four singing, dancing and miming actors, including the charming actress Jennie Eisenhower, who happens to be Richard Nixon’s grandchild. This topical approach, although ingenious in its style and presentation, pushes the show dangerously close to becoming a revue. However, the second act brings the story line back into focus. Will Alison and Stuart move to Suburb? Will the self sacrificing Rhoda the Realtor, whose favorite saying is “there’s no ‘I’ in realtor”, find happiness with Tom, a lonely, conflicted widower beautifully acted by Dennis Kelly? Will Tom finally agree to sell his house (can anyone actually say “no” to Rhoda)? Simple questions asked. Simple questions answered in this pleasant and highly enjoyable show.
Thanks to the fast paced direction of Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Suburb moves blithely along to its uplifting conclusion. David Javerbaum and Robert Cohen worked well together. Javerbaum’s witty and, at times, quite moving lyrics fit smoothly with Cohen’s melodic ballads and peppy, rhythmic songs. Scenic designer Kris Stone did a terrific job creating moveable sets in a show that goes from city to country, office to garden, country house to city house. The costumes by Jan Finnell supported each scene and character from chic to sporty, from juvenile to retiree and even included outfits for dancing grass.
Suburb, the winner of the 2000 Richard Rodgers award, is an upbeat, witty and entertaining new musical about the most ordinary of topics – suburban life. Assuming the premise that if so many people choose this style of living it can’t be all bad, the book presents without apology, the pleasures, pains and joys of “the Burbs.” So let’s give a cheer for the originality of Suburb and a second cheer for the fabulous performance of Alix Korey’s “Rhoda, the Realtor.”
Photos by Carol Rosegg; Top: Jacquelyn Piro and James Ludwig Bottom: Ron Butler, Adinah Alexander, James Sasser, Jennie Eisenhower
Suburb by Robert S. Cohen and David Javerbaum