Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
It should be clarified, however, that I Hate Musicals: The Musical is not completely new: most of the songs have melodies from existing Broadway showtunes with new, often hilarious, new lyrics. Running a smooth ninety minutes, without an intermission, I Hate Musicals: The Musical at Ivoryton Playhouse will never be considered an earthshaking new work, but it certainly can be fun to watch.
And, speaking of earthshaking, the main plot point of the show actually involves an earthquake. When the musical begins, out-of-work comedy writer Alvin (Stephen Wallem) is desperately trying to pitch a television show idea to Diane (the versatile Amanda Huxtable) in order to get a job. In the midst of this meeting, the earthquake occurs and the show becomes a slightly surreal experience, with Alvin in a kind of purgatory, so to speak, where he is visited by people from his past, both living and dead.
This becomes increasingly silly, what with Alvin's parents visiting him from beyond the grave and Jesus and Freud, among others, figuring into the plot, as well. What saves it all from collapsing into a tired show is the good will of everyone involved and, most specifically, Michael L. Reiss' uncanny knack for a funny one-liner or a clever new lyric. The songs spoofed include "YMCA," transformed into "I Hate L.A.," and "I'm Flying" which becomes "I'm Dying." There is a mash-up of "Send in the Clowns" and "The Ladies Who Lunch," in a nod to Stephen Sondheim (though the criticism here that Sondheim can't write good music is extremely stale, by this point in time).
Faring better is a take-off on Hamilton, and "I Am What I Am" also pops up toward the end of the show. Garnering the biggest laughs are hilarious parodies of the song "Goldfinger" (complete with projections from the film) and, even better, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," employed with new lyrics detailing Alvin's collapsing mental state. The expert music director and vocal arranger Michael Morris is seen on the side of the stage, playing the piano throughout.
The spirited cast also adds to the show's merits. Most of the smaller roles are taken on by Amanda Huxtable, Will Clark, Sam Given, and Ryan Knowles, all of whom do well. Shining even brighter, though, is the ever-reliable R. Bruce Connelly as Alvin's put-upon agent Lee, who is seen vacationing in Hawaii and whom Alvin is repeatedly calling for help.
In the starring role of Alvin, Stephen Wallem is an extremely strong singer and he deserves kudos for performing most of the show with rubble piled on top of him. (The wonderfully detailed set is designed by Daniel Nischan.) Wallem has star quality and he serves as the shining center of the show, in which all of the craziness swirls around him.
Director James Valletti manages to keep the show moving at a pretty good pace, though even he can't save an over-extended bit about Alvin not going to heaven because he once ate meat on a Friday. Lighting designer Marcus Abbott and the busy costume/wig designer Elizabeth Cipollina both do good work.
Most of I Hate Musicals: The Musical is pretty enjoyable and the show is basically silly fun. Whenever things threaten to go off track, there is a clever Michael L. Reiss joke thrown in that sets everything back in place again. The ultimate future of the musical is in doubt, but this premiere production at Ivoryton Playhouse should please the casual theatregoer.
I Hate Musicals: The Musical continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through October 15, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.