Off Broadway Reviews
Gemini the Musical
"What dire offence from am'rous causes springs, / What mighty musicals rise from trivial things!"
Those are not quite the first two lines of Alexander Poem's mock-heroic narrative poem "The Rape of the Lock." But had Pope been aware in the 1700s of the sparkling comic operetta Sam Carner and Derek Gregor would coax from his cutting parody of the petty squabbles of the well-off and present at the 2007 New York Musical Theatre Festival, he might well have considered a rewrite in the final draft.
Their show, titled Unlock'd, follows Pope's lead in re-envisioning modern concerns in slightly (and not-so-slightly) antiquated ways. But though stretches of couplet-heavy rhyming remain as tribute to Pope and there are more than a few Baroque riffs worthy of Bach, Carner (book and lyrics) and Gregor (music) have derived their inspiration more from more theatrical types ranging from John Gay to Romberg and Hammerstein. The result is a show that in word and song is as stageworthy as it is hilarious, which is to say quite a lot.
Two combating love stories - one between beautiful young Belinda (Sarah Jane Everman), her half-sister Clarissa (Jackie Burns), Belinda's betrothed Edwin (Christopher Gunn), and the dashing Baron Windsorloch, and one focusing on the three virginal sylphs (Alison Cimmet, Maria Couch, and Mary Catherine McDonald) and their lusty gnome admirers (Darryl Winslow, Christopher Totten, and William Thomas Evans) - give the show its bulk. But it's that lock, in this case a tuft of Belinda's hair the girl has named Beatrice, that gives it its drive, inspiring events storied enough for Greek tragedy but wacky enough for Roman comedy.
An all-out fencing scene, the women wielding knitting needles and the men violin bows, is the culmination of the ridiculousness arising from the grooming and chopping down of Beatrice (a whole song is devoted to her praise), but laughs aplenty are found too in Belinda's flightiness, the Baron's smarmy charm, and even - when necessary - divine intervention. The score, though, is no laughing matter: Its resplendent melodies and sumptuously romantic lyrics engage the ear and heart in equal measure. They're attractively orchestrated by one of Broadway's best, Bruce Coughlin, and played by a fine four-piece orchestra under the skillful baton of Eric Svejcar.
To single out a number would be unfair - too many glitter far too brightly - though I will admit special fondness for the creamy, complex harmonies of "Hampton Court" and some frustration with "By the Light of Your Love," which sounds like it was written more for the pop charts than for the characters singing it. Regardless, gorgeous voices and warmly funny performances are all you'll find from the cast, though Everman's lilting soprano (which becomes a fierce belt in one number) and flawless comic timing give her a slight, Kristin Chenowethian edge over her costars. But everyone is equally responsible for making Unlock'd one of the most ravishing musicals of 2007.
Venue: TBG Theater, 312 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Gemini the Musical
Topical theatre has no greater enemy than the passage of time. When Albert Innaurato's comedy Gemini opened on Broadway in 1977, its story about a teen struggling with his possible homosexuality packed a subversive punch; today, it likely wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Innaurato even admits as much in a lengthy author's note in the program for his own musical adaptation written with composer-lyricist Charles Gilbert, predictably called Gemini the Musical, which breaks few dramatic barriers but certainly can help redefine tedium for a new generation.
The musical version does make some innovations of its own: It brings kicking and screaming to center stage issues once left on the periphery, sucks most of the laughs away from what was once a raucous comedy, and puts the focus squarely on the sexually conflicted, almost-21 Francis (Dan Micciche) instead of on the South Philadelphia neighborhood that has granted him his uncertain identity. More has been made of how his coming-out realization impacts his relationship with his father Fran (Joel Blum) and the Harvard brother and sister (Kirsten Bracken and Ryan Reid) who've come to visit him, Judith (who has a crush on Francis) and Randy (whom Francis has a crush on).
But the songs are so forgettable, you quickly find yourself not wanting to dig deeper into these people's psyches: Production numbers about party planning, suicide attempts, and body building seldom capture the imagination, and the rare songs that explore characters' feelings do so with such generic convictions there's not much reason to listen to them, either. When Herschel (Jonathan Kay), the bizarre boy living next door, starts crooning about his fascination with public transportation, just staying awake becomes a Herculean chore.
Fending off drowsiness is only marginally easier with the rest of the performers, who sing well but don't delve much deeper into their characterizations than their oregano-stuffed Italian accents. Only Linda Hart, as Herschel's mother and Fran's long-ago lover, spices up the proceedings with her finely honed sense of Broadway-broad brassiness. Her numbers are among the score's most tuneless and useless, but she plows through them with the same devil-may-care dedication she brought to much better material in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Hairspray, and - not coincidentally - Second Stage's 1999 revival of the non-musical Gemini.
Granted, Hart's presence here seems like a rickety afterthought, a desperate attempt to find something to jolt the stalling Gemini the Musical into at least neutral. But no complaining here - who can argue with a decadent slice of comedic brie classing up a hulking hunk of Philly cream cheese?
Venue: The Acorn Theater, 410 West 42nd Street 3rd floor.