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The Chocolate Show!

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray


Emily McNamara
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Let's clear up one thing, straight off: The Chocolate Show!, the new musical at the 47th Street Theatre, is about chocolate.

It is not a metaphor. You may be tempted to flirt with the notion that Alan Golub (book, music, and lyrics) and Laura Goldfader (music) have written a scathing examination of the dangers of obsession, or a vicious satire on nutritionally minded nanny-staters.

No. No no no.

It's about chocolate. The sweet (semi- or bitter-, take your pick) brown, occasionally white, stuff you unwrap and eat, or occasionally bake chips of into cookies. That's it. Really.

Really! There are songs about chocoholism, hot chocolate's impact on the human psyche during the cold winter months, chocolate's effects on dogs, what a nice change of pace it is when it's blended with coffee, and so on. For 88 minutes, without intermission.

Don't misunderstand. Golub and Goldfader have turned out a perfectly amiable lark of a revue, structured around the barely tempered conceit that the Chocolate Lovers Association of the World holds the titular pageant every year to determine the next World Queen (or King) of the Cocoa Bean, whose sole job is to spend 365 days spreading the Good Word of chocolate. The current title holder, and our mistress of ceremonies, is Cookie Conwell (Emily McNamara), who's on hand to relinquish her cherished title—however unwillingly—to the lucky audience member who wins popular favor. (Yes, there's participation involved, but it's nonthreatening and entirely voluntary.)


Andrew Pandaleon, Laura D'Andre, Talene Monahon, and James Patterson
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Even so, it's all little more than an excuse for that creamy, over-rich musical lineup, which is performed by "The Chocolate Layer Players" (Laura D'Andre, Talene Monahon, Andrew Pandaleon, and James Patterson) and punchily orchestrated by Jeffrey Klitz. Sure, for legitimacy there are a few sketches extracted from the history of chocolate—how the seeds were discovered to be the gold of the cacao pod, how Hernán Cortés conquered Montezuma and improved hot chocolate along the way, and so on—but they're few and far between, and scarcely to be taken seriously anyway.

But just as eating too much chocolate can give you a stomachache, the same problem is in force here. Cute and well-performed though the songs may be, they would all need to be complex and unique masterpieces to land without the thud of repetitiveness, and they're sadly not. The only one that even attempts genuine emotional engagement is "Kids Again" (sung by Monahon with plaintive, unadorned heart), in which a worker at a chocolate shop marvels at how her wares can make adults as happy and carefree as children. And I profess a special fondness for "The Secret Life of Cupcakes," though mostly because it lets vanilla sing for a few verses.

Dan Foster's light-handed direction and Grady McLeod Bowman's intentionally kitschy choreography don't skimp on the empty-calorie fun, which is good given that Steven Kemp's sets and Orli Nativ's brown-drunk costumes are not always the most vibrant things to stare at for 90 minutes. And the performances are good: McNamara is a sprightly-silly, broken-beauty-queen-styled host with just the right amount of inflated occasion; and though the witty Pandaleon and the ridiculously versatile Monahon are particular standouts, the full ensemble is energetic and likable enough to keep you entertained throughout.

That's a good thing, because there comes a point—about the halfway mark, I'd say, though your personal tolerance may vary—where the prospect of yet another chocolate song is enough to send you screaming for the hills (or at least a cheeseburger). Golub and Goldfader are, on some level, to be commended for giving themselves over so completely to their concept and never letting a crack appear in its flawlessly snappy outer shell. But as what's here would likely make Jacques Torres cry uncle and collapse into a sobbing puddle, these ambitious writers might wonder whether they and The Chocolate Show have gone perhaps just a bit too far.


The Chocolate Show!
47th Street Theatre, 304 West 47th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets and performance schedule at www.ticketcentral.com


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