The Midtown International Theatre Festival
The Midtown International Theatre Festival, like the Fringe Festival and (at least most of the time) the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is not a place you generally expect to hear nearly opera-weight voices or an elegant overture sumptuously spun out by a crack jazz quartet. Yet both are what you get at the improbably titled Conspiracy: A Love Story, playing at the June Havoc Theatre through July 21.
In all my years of MITFgoing, I can’t recall ever hearing a cast quite as vocally resplendent as Eddie Schnecker, Mark Cajigao, Danielle Treuberg, and Elaine Moran. After that bubbling overture, led by conductor-composer Ronnie Reshef on keyboard, the cast plows into “Make You Think,” an alternately pounding and soaring number that finds stratospheric soprano Moran, nimble tenor Schnecker, rumbling baritone Cajigao, and primo belter Treuberg singing about the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes realistic things we believe to get through the day. This is clearly going to be a smart, musically opulent show.
That impression dissipates in the second scene, once we get into the meat of librettist-lyricist Victor Lesniewski’s story: Robbie (Schnecker) is a big-time conspiracy theorist (he’s positive September 11, the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the moon landing were all cover-ups) who’s about to turn 30 but never had a serious girlfriend, but falls big time for fellow everything-skeptic Melinda (Moran) when he meets her at a golf course. It doesn’t take him long, at the joking urging of his friend Wynn (Cajigao), to become convinced that Melinda is a government plant — for what reason he’s terrified to guess.
And that’s it. The rest of the show follows the tired-and-true sitcom tradition, complete with Wynn’s nosy and wise-cracking wife Kate (Treuberg), Robbie having reason to believe he’s being tailed by the Feds, a stakeout song-scene in front of Melinda’s apartment, a song called “The Truth,” and so on. Those gorgeous opening minutes promising razor-edged musical comedy blending with classic intrigue end up as an appetizer for a seven-course meal that never arrives.
The performers’ energizing voices never flag, and they’re all immensely likable onstage — particularly Schnecker, who brings an appealing innocence to the inexperienced Robbie and displays a delightfully quirky chemistry with the super-spunky Moran. Director Elizabeth Carlson has staged the 75-minute minute show ably, and come up with some fun, film noir–style stage pictures that accentuate the paranoia on which the romantic leads base their lives. But Wynn and Kate are ornamental rather than integral, and the paint-by-numbers story would need a bit more structure to reach the level of “flimsy.”
Lesniewski needn’t work so hard — Reshef ensures that our ears start out as interested in what these people will do. But they substantive things to talk and sing about so the rest of our heads will follow suit. With an opening and a cast like this production has, there’s every reason to think Conspiracy: A Love Story could morph into a full evening as rich as its initial minutes. But first the creators have to believe in it more strongly.
Conspiracy: A Love Story