I don’t have a lot insightful or even necessary to say about NEWSical the Musical (which has just re-opened with a new edition at Theatre Row). I hadn’t previously pointedly avoided it, but it always kind of flew under my radar (like episodes of JAG), because I was never in much doubt about what it was and how it would strike me. But when the new invitations came, I thought, why not, and sure enough…
The difficulty with writing topical material for a musical theatre revue that’s going to run a long while (all of NEWSical is written by Rick Crom in a meticulously craftsmanlike manner) is that you have to hew to the general absurdities that will hold true for a while…such as the current absurd spate of Republican nominees, the infighting and the irony of their ethical outrage contrasted to their personal lives. (Remember: new musical numbers need to be written, rehearsed, staged, lit, maybe costumed, fit into the routine, replacing other numbers, which means new cueing and transitions, etc. They can’t be as disposable as “bits.”) Good for a smile, but We Been There, and we’ve also got Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert riffing on the day-to-day developments with fresh jokes, interviews and improvisation four nights a week, forty-two weeks a year. Generalities wear out their usefulness soon, so what’s left? Sniping at celebrities. A celebrity screwing up the National Anthem at a ball game should stay in the memory for about a year so, sure, have a go at Christina Aguilera.
It’s all very hit and miss. I found it mildly amusing and smiled three or four times in spite of myself. The two women next to me were out of control with hysteria. My significant other thought it was kind of adorable. Entire pockets of the audience laughed not at all…and at around the midway point (and this is not an uncommon phenomenon at this kind of show done with this kind of polish) the audience more or less gave in en masse. The laughs were not boffo, but they were regular until the end.
Director Mark Waldop, a master at this kind of thing, keeps the intermissionless 90 minutes going fleetly, and the cast of six—of which you will see four, in a grouping of two men and two women, on any given night—are expert mimics, usually pretty good-to-great with comedy timing, usually don’t push harder than is called for and go for the easy lob when possible; the sign of people who know what comedy’s about, even when the laughs aren’t coming. A gifted group of musical theatre troupers, they’re Christina Bianco, Christine Pedi, John Walton West, Michael West, Amy Griffin and Tommy Walker.
NEWSical the Musical…it is what it is. And further deponent sayeth not…
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