Southern Discomfort, now playing at the Midtown International Theater Festival, is part social commentary and part musical revue. While that can be a good thing, it is unfortunate that the show is only partly clever and partly entertaining.
What we are promised in the first song, "Parody Tonight," is exactly what's delivered. We get parodies songs from "If I Only Had a Brain" to "Monster Mash," "Everything Old is New Again," "My Favorite Things," "Seasons of Love" from Rent, "Breakin' Up is Hard to Do" and many, many more. All told, there are forty or so songs that come flying at the audience during the show's running time of only slightly more than an hour.
Therein, however, lies the problem. Southern Discomfort is frequently cute, and elicits its fair share of smiles. But with this many musical numbers, that isn't enough. Serious laughs are few and far between, and though the show takes aim at some pretty easy targets, including George W. Bush, Al Gore, Dr. Laura, and Hillary Clinton, it never really hits a bullseye. It is as if director Alan Thornton, who also appears in the show, wanted to cram too much in without maintaining a consistent level of quality throughout. When a show that prides itself on being from the south never makes a more significant comment about their part of the country than a song entitled "Puttin' on the Grits," there is a serious problem.
Many of the songs make so little impact, and some of the song sequences go on so long, that tedium sets in quickly. To make matters worse, the rewritten lyrics are frequently mis-stressed and sit poorly on the music, and the show's performers - though having stamina and dynamic singing voices to spare - are never really successful in most of their imitations of famous people. The cast and the piano player (Frank Steele) work tirelessly throughout the evening, but the whole show, for all it tries to do, too frequently comes across as amateurish and unpolished.
Even when the jokes fail or the parodies fall flat, one cannot help but admire the enthusiasm and energy of the performers. For over an hour, they give it their all and then some. Their boundless determination and verve are the only thing about Southern Discomfort that prevents complete discomfort from setting in.
Southern Discomfort Productions