DEAR EDWINA [PS Classics PS-871]
Let joy reign supreme in Paw Paw, Michigan. Dear Edwina, Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler's pint-size musical that takes place on a lazy Sunday afternoon in a Paw Paw backyard, has just extended its Off-Broadway run at the DR2. This is good news for New York theatregoers, too, who might be facing the next month without anything to do or any tuneful musicals left to see.
Producer Daryl Roth mounted the show under the "Kids Theater" series she instituted at DR2 Theatre Off-Broadway last fall. The happy discovery she quickly made (or perhaps planned?) is that this Dear Edwina is not just a kid's show. Perfectly suitable for children, yes, and featuring a group of twentyish actors playing kids; but the level of musical theatre artistry is genuine, thank you very much. Composer Zina Goldrich and lyricist/librettist Marcy Heisler have been standing on the musical theatre sidelines for a decade now, with some pert and enjoyable work along the way (including the Theatreworks musical Junie B. Jones and the cabaret favorite "Taylor, the Latte Boy").
Dear Edwina dates from 1993, in fact; without a major production in sight, the folks at MTI finally decided in 1998 (with the urging of Maury Yeston) to release this unproduced show on the stock and amateur circuit. Edwina and friends have developed quite a following over the years, which has finally led — separately — to the current Off-Broadway production and to a delicious studio cast album filled to the brink with Broadway favorites playing Edwina and her band of 13-year-olds.
The songwriters seemed to have simply called over a bunch of pals and set them up in the backyard with a mike stand, a pitcher of frozen pink lemonade, and a couple of platters of double-stuff Oreos. With friends like Kerry Butler, Danny Burstein, Andrea Burns, Rebecca Luker, Terrence Mann, Kate Shindle, Sean Martin Hingston, Telly Leung, Lynette Perry and Jeff Blumenkrantz, this makes quite a lawn party. The songwriters chime in, too; and they all of them seem to be having a midsummer day's blast. It's a shame we can't see them perform this, actually: Blumenkrantz and Mann (in "Frankenguest"), Luker and Perry (in "Fork Knife Spoon"), Burns (on "Hola Lola" and "Say No Thank You"), Hingston (as Seamus), Jill Abramovitz (as Carrie), Burstein (as Jean-Pierre Fromage de la Croissant — don't ask!), and Shindle and Merwin Foard (on "Put It in the Piggy") all bring the kind of laughter that leaves a genuine smile behind. Mr. Leung gets to sing the puppy love song "Edwina," touchingly so, and Ms. Butler scores with Goldrich and Heisler's effective and lovely theme song, "Sing Your Own Song." The Dear Edwina CD gives New Yorkers not one but two options, just now, for discovering Goldrich and Heisler's clever and witty little entertainment; one has plenty of starpower, the other has ingratiating performances and an hour's worth of inventive and canny staging from director Timothy McDonald and choreographer Steven Kennedy. A kid's show, but not as in children's theatre; more like You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. And full of musical comedy know-how — as exemplified by the toe-tappin' "Put It in the Piggy."
THE GIG [Jay CDJAY 1402]
Some musicals seem to get lost. Douglas J. Cohen raised eyebrows in 1987 with his unconventional and arresting Off-Broadway serial murder-musical, No Way to Treat a Lady. He returned in the mid '90s with The Gig, based on the 1987 film by Frank Gilroy. The show was developed at Manhattan Theatre Club and performed at Goodspeed's Norma Terris, after which it seemingly disappeared while occasionally surfacing in regional productions. The York Theatre produced a one-night concert version back in May 2006, and Jay Records — which has a long-term relationship with the York — has now released a CD based on that production while restoring Michael Gibson's full jazz orchestration. The Gig passed me by when it was first produced, and did not seem especially enticing when the CD arrived recently. Upon pressing the play button, though, Cohen launched into his bravura opening sequence ("Farewell Mere Existence, Hello Jazz!") and I was instantly engrossed. Cohen takes six solitary characters, adrift in separate lives, and linked only by their Wednesday night jam session, and in 11 minutes builds the basis for a musical. From there on, I found myself listening intently to just about every moment of The Gig — a lost musical that, without this new CD, I don't suppose many would ever have a chance to discover.
Cohen, as in No Way to Treat a Lady, is a keen and clever composer/lyricist, with an offbeat sense and a penchant for sly surprises. One supposes there is a story behind the strange non-history of The Gig; certainly, the score deserves better than what seems to be one official New York performance over 14 years. The show is something of a Full Monty, albeit with clothes; Full Monty mixed with Sideman, perhaps. Building your musical around six equal-sized middle-aged male characters is not a recipe for instant success, perhaps, in the theatre of today and yesterday. Nevertheless, a listener stumbling upon this CD of The Gig might well be surprised by how very interesting it is.
The CD features William Parry, James Judy, Steve Routman, Herndon Lackey, Charles Pistone, Michael McCormick, and Michael James Leslie. Michele Pawk plays a cameo as Ricki Valentine, a has-been TV star just out of rehab whose act is — well, precisely what one might expect (highlighted by her born-again song, "Me and Mr. G."). Playing the small-town waitresses who hook up with the boys for two songs are Karen Ziemba and Jill Paice, no less. Stephen Berger makes a comedy contribution as the proprietor of the Catskill dive where the boys arrange "The Gig."
(Steven Suskin is author of the forthcoming "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations" (Oxford) as well as "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)