Chief New York Theatre Critic
Outer Critics Circle / Drama Desk Member
The familiar phrase “Everything old is new again” is a perfect way to describe the current production at the delightful Two River Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. It is an old-fashioned musical comedy featuring music by the legendary Cy Coleman with a book written by the brilliant playwrights, Wendy Wasserstein and Christopher Durang, entitled “Pamela’s First Musical.” It is truly a tribute to the masters who pay homage to their profession and community by creating a show about musical theater. The story is based on the children’s book by Ms. Wasserstein with Mr. Durang joining the creative team at Two River to complete and polish the book for the musical. Graciela Daniele takes the helm as director and choreographer for this world premiere production and she was the original choice by Mr. Coleman and Ms. Wasserstein, who are now sadly missed but remain icons of the American Theater.
The story revolves around a precocious eleven-year-old with a vivid imagination and a dream of becoming an acknowledged member of the Broadway theater community. She has an Aunt Louise, who is a wealthy fashion designer in New York City, that swoops in on her motor scooter to rescue her from her dreadful Birthday breakfast and tales her to see her first big Broadway musical. They lunch at Sardi’s, meet the stars backstage and watches the show from the producer’s box as all the while her imagination runs wild. All’s well that ends well, as in all great musical comedy. It is great wholesome family entertainment.
The music is reminiscent of Mr. Coleman’s earlier work but somewhat less vibrant and interesting. Although displaying varied styles, it does not provide much energy for the cast. Lyrics by David Zippel provide sufficient exposition and move the lost plot along slowly. Both lyrics and music serve ballads more sufficiently than the upbeat or production numbers. Choreography by Ms. Danielle is quite pedestrian revolving mostly around simple time steps and routine jazz. Sets by David Gallo and Viveca Gardiner are colorful, splashy and take on a fantastical theme. The small eight-piece orchestra led by Gregory J. Dlugos is excellent giving the feel of a big musical.
The cast is competent, doing what they can but cannot transcend the mediocre book. There are times that stereotypical behavior diminishes characterization and is a deterrent to the sincerity of the story.
It appears that many elements are fighting between reality and fantasy resulting in contradictions that distract from the imaginative theme of the production. Just when you expect more, you are given less. Still it is a joy anytime you can see Broadway veterans Carolee Carmello, Howard McGillin, Michael Mulheren and David Garrison take the stage.
Two River Theater has brought a pleasant musical that possibly could have been kept a secret to the stage for audiences of all ages to enjoy. It is not perfect but is certainly worth a visit for an entertaining evening of regional theater.
PAMELA’S FIRST MUSICAL
The cast includes Sarah McKinley Austin, Wesley J. Barnes, Jeanine Bruen, Andréa Burns, Mary Callanan, Carolee Carmello, Nick Cearley, Erica Dorfler, Hillary Fisher, David Garrison, Jacobi Hall, Howard McGillin, Michael Mulheren, Elizabeth Ritacco, and Blake Zolfo.
The creative team includes music director Gregory J. Dlugos, orchestrator Charlie Rosen, scenic designers David Gallo and Viveca Gardiner, costume designer Gabriel Berry, lighting designer David Lander, and sound designer Drew Levy. The casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. The production stage manager is Lori M. Doyle and the assistant stage manager is James Steele.
Ticket prices range from $40.00 to $70,00, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20.00 tickets are available for every performance; $20.00 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20.00 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from www.tworivertheater.org or 732-345-1400.
Photo: Carolee Carmello and Sarah McKinley Austin. Credit: Yurik Lozano.