Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

That Other Woman's Child

The Fancy Boys Follies

Part of The New York Musical Theatre Festival

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

That Other Woman's Child

That Other Woman's Child is, to my knowledge, the first 26-year-old musical that the New York Musical Theatre Festival has produced. Sherry Landrum and George S. Clinton's bluegrass hoedown premiered in Los Angeles in 1982, then lay dormant until 2003, when its creators resuscitated and rewrote it to better match modern tastes. In terms of sheer vivacity, it's easy to understand this work's appeal: It's packed with the kind of raucous song and rambunctious dance that are frequently in short supply in today's committee-approved musical climate.

Even so, there's a sense of pandering desperation at work that cuts into the fun. Not just in the setting and characters, which rib the "Red State" mentality nearly to a fault (almost every character is named after one or more books in the Bible, for one thing). But also in the score itself, which repeats lyrics endlessly with little variation, as though their presence alone is sufficient; cycles through showstopping "types" more readily than it explores character or plot; and explodes willy-nilly with stage-splitting tap combos (the ambitious, Susan Stroman-ish work of Mark Knowles) as high-octane substitutes for content.

This all makes for the most energetically entertaining show at NYMF this year, but with no real cohesion, the evening is a frustratingly empty one. Its story is about a woman named Dawn (Mary Mossberg), whose father broke up his family in pursuit of "that other woman," but who now wants to return to the family farm to save it from foreclosure. While battling her father's bitter wife (Andrea A. McCullough), the cool Dawn is nicely melted by attention from the most open-minded of the yokels she meets, the widower Luke John (Don Noble).

But what could be a compelling little story of familial redemption is overwhelmed by a fraying grab-bag of subplots: an arranged marriage goes awry, a young man runs for public office and falls in love, a fire-and-brimstone preacher becomes a televangelist, a small-town singer goes big-time at the Grand Ole Opry. It all seems to exist for no reason other than to set up pastiche tunes of recognizable if utilitarian vintage, from the sweetly sultry "Honeysuckle" to the comic marriage-proposal ballad "Four Hands on the Plow," from the Judds-like duet of "Daddy Was a Dreamer" to the openly mocking religious hymn "Please Tell Us What to Do Lord."

The cast has been astutely assembled: The sophisticated Mossberg, the down-home Noble, and the cheerfully crotchety McCullough center the action, but Quinn VanAntwerp is a friendly mix of Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney as the country-star wannabe, Canedy Knowles finds real brightness in a rebellious daughter, and Dave Schoonover is a voice-stretching standout as her reddest-of-necks betrothed. The six-piece band is loaded with Southern-flavor instruments like a fiddle, a banjo, and even a saw and washboard, and really groves under David Libby's musical direction. It's the most authentic part of That Other Woman's Child, the only thing that exists because it needs to, rather than merely because someone thinks it should.

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival

The Fancy Boys Follies

Disclaimer: I'm not exactly a member of the target demographic for The Fancy Boys Follies. So I'll admit that there might be some powerful social commentary I missed in David Pevsner's burlesque revue, some complex satirization of gender roles and the politicization of male sexuality I'm not "fancy" enough to understand.

But in the opening number, the company sings "No subtleties to ponder / It's all single-entendre tonight," so it's more likely the show is exactly what it appears: a cheap excuse for cheap sex jokes and for showing off a Chippendales-worthy dancer (Dave August), who spends his nearly every moment onstage parading through a five-song strip tease. Even if you like the idea, The Fancy Boys Follies still might push its "bad vaudeville" shtick too far.

"Big Daddy Rick and His Amazing Baby Dick," featuring Tom Stuart as a Carnac-styled mind reader and Jim J Bullock (yes, that one) as his diaper-wearing sidekick, is laden with such creaky jokes, even the performers' faces acknowledged the supreme difficulty in selling them. The opening number recreates a honky-tonk, with the twanging company wailing (among other things) about the inconvenient places one can develop Human papillomavirus. A glittery rethink of Gypsy's "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" for contemporary male strippers makes you long for the original's dramaturgical nuances, and the show's (ahem) climax is an extended and lifeless oratorio about sex toys.

The show does pursue charm at one point, in "Meet Cute - A Mini-Musical," about two angels (Bullock and Stuart) helping two lonely guys (Jon Powell and Howard Kaye) summon the courage to speak to each other; and "The Saga of Roark and Lance" is an elaborate Hollywood coming-out parable that might have more impact were it not rolled into an ill-conceived "Gay TV" sketch. Everyone in the cast is able, if lacking the charisma real vaudeville shows demanded. And choreographer Michael Lee Scott and director Randy Brenner prevent things from grinding to a complete halt, even if they never keep them moving at the breakneck clip probably required for the jokes to land.

Pevsner, who has been assisted by seven different composers and whose work has been augmented by Bruce Vilanch, and the performers are at their best when they're not trying so hard, as reflected in the show's final two songs: "The Gay Old Times," a vibrant, a capella declaring that the best of times for sexual liberation is always now, and "I Gotta Give It Up For Love," which excites with its unfettered sentiment and precise, Jersey Boys-style choreography. These numbers approach that dreaded commentary, true, but they also embrace romance rather than just sex. In their context here, that helps make them the fanciest and finest of all.

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival

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