Off Broadway Reviews
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)
Usually when a group of actors is trapped in a go-nowhere scene, you can't wait for it to limp to the finish. But exactly the opposite was true of a performance I recently attended: When three actors spent the better part of five minutes sputtering through pointless, circuitous, yet plot-heavy dialogue, the audience was doubled over in giddy laughter. And rightfully so. The characters' discussion, an unforgettable yet unrecountable back-and-forth about the hopelessly tangled qualities of chemistry, love, Kool-Aid, and a certain porcine pandemic, was the crowning and unintentional glory of "Swine Flu Lovers," a one-performance-only creation from Baby Wants Candy, the improv troupe that specializes in creating an on-the-spot, hour-long musical, complete with a three-piece band playing a full (and practically nonstop) accompaniment.
Because the show is created wholesale from only a title shouted out by the audience at the evening's start, I can guarantee you won't see what I did. But it seems likely that what you experience will be, at least, every bit as good - my show was laden with comedic wonders. The First Man Adam, tempted by the Serpent, fornicating with a pig and unleashing swine flu and Secondary Sin on the world. (This was after Adam slaughtered a unicorn, by the way.) A Sunday school teacher was so distraught over his wife's death that he's taken to reading from "The Gospel of Rush" in the new Republican Bible. A woman so wracked with every ailment known to man - and yet destined to be cured when she herself develops the swine flu - had to crawl around the stage on one arm or lurch about in a malfunctioning electric wheelchair before eventually misidentifying the scorned Eve as Jesus Christ.
The songs were as accomplished and melodic as they were random. From the opening line ("The greatest love stories in the world are tied to the greatest diseases known to man") on, they were as smartly crafted as is imaginable under the circumstances, bearing musical influences of Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim, and Jason Robert Brown, with lyrics that rhymed with much greater regularity than you see in shows of the Spring Awakening and Passing Strange ilk, and that sometimes even blended into complex musical scenes. I was particularly enamored of one number apparently called "My Swine Flu Love," a belty spiritual in which the teacher mourned his dead wife and barked at interrupting children, and the unexpectedly haunting "Send Me a Savior," sung when the intertwining stories had reached their lowest points. The finale sextet, in which the barriers between fantasy and reality, life and death, and science and science (you had to be there) broke down to help the necessary pairs form and the appropriate pigs to literally fly off into the sunset (for reasons, I hasten to add, utterly in keeping with the plot), was - against the odds - equally as stirring musically as dramatically.
The good news about the accomplished comedians in the Baby Wants Candy troupe (which includes Fringe Festival favorite Jeff Hiller, a scream as the Serpent in my show) is that they're performing twice more this week, on Thursday and Saturday, and are slated for an Off-Broadway run in the fall, giving you a chance to see them (or, if you're really smart, see them more than once). The bad news is that "Swine Flu Lovers" was more original and daring than many recent musical comedies on or Off-Broadway. As a lover of musicals and a fierce proponent of careful, studied crafting of both words and music, I can't in good conscience recommend that all musicals go this route - that would result in far too many scenes about the interplay of swine flu and Kool-Aid for everyone's taste. But if the struggling writers and composers out there aren't sure how to develop ideas and make them stick, Baby Wants Candy teaches of the most useful - and funniest - master classes imaginable on the subject.
Baby Wants Candy