Natalie Rine, Associate New York Critic
Craic is the Irish word that most confuses outsiders. The dictionary definition: "Craic" (/kræk/ KRACK), or "crack", is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland. It is often used with the definite article, as in, “what’s the craic?” to describe what level of fun and enjoyment was reached. Regarding the new Irish musical “Big Shot,” running as part of the Rave Theater Festival on the Lower East Side, I would like to report a mild “good craic” of a time—nothing too amazing, but nothing too bad.
This musical from Irish writer Lauryn Gaffney and director Orla Sheriden tastes like the latest Starbucks cloud coffee concoction; it’s frothy and fun at first, sounds like a good idea, but then it ultimately leaves you feeling empty with a somehow nutty aftertaste. The nutty premise in question? The show revolves around Jeremy Crocker, a savvy defense lawyer thriving in New York City. Despite his ambitions, Crocker falls in love with Carrie, struggling Irish artist who works in Crocker’s go-to café. Although the two become ever more infatuated by each other, this threatens to derail Crocker’s career, with regard to the dubious new defense case he has taken on involving (unknowingly) Carrie’s fiancée (gasp!) who runs some sort of secret mob and shot a man. This is where the plot breaks down without much of a clear background, interested only in building vague but high stakes of Jeremy and Carrie’s doomed love.
The second-string exes-turned-lovers, each of course the best friend of Jeremy and Carrie respectively, provide a much-needed nitro shot of comedy. Amy Penston as Viv delivers a knock-out performance reminiscent of any top-tier Orfeh performance, acing comedy and vocal prowess with ease. Sean McMahon as Frankie, has a harder time finding his footing, owning the stage with hilarious chutzpah as the sexist, privileged partyboy law school dropout, yet flailing when his character inexplicably becomes a docile, devoted lover to Viv.
Donal Brennan and Sorcha Fenlon as the main duo soar through the pop-infused score, particularly highlighting the heart-wrenching ballads that abound with melodrama in the second half: “Oh, what’s a girl/man to do?” Ms. Penston’s boundless energy and snappy wit lead us through another musical highlight, the cute coffee song that has all the patrons deliciously pattering repetitiously “Cappuccino, Frappuccino, Mocha Latte” with equally as smooth, showstopping choreography. The real strength of the piece is in the ensemble’s choreography, by Orla Sheridan and Mark Kennedy, like somehow if the relentless sincerity of Frasier met Teen Beach Movie.
Unfortunately, there are too many blackouts for numerous scene changes that stall what little momentum these zany characters are mustering, making the law proceedings and love pining timelines move like molasses for this ninety minute piece. The mob and criminal fiancée storyline need intense clarity to resonate as anything more than a sitcom cliché, which would root us as rooting for the café-crossed lovers instead of being thoroughly confused why we care about some hotshot lawyer getting the girl.
“Big Shot” plays out like a classic romcom film scenario from the early 2000s, but as a musical staged today, it lands as a wannabe thriller that struggles to find its heart. Staged with a full Irish band, cast and production team, the show flops between genres attempting to explore quintessentially American themes of greed, justice, and even senseless violence. The show only shines where originality, wit, and comedic energy are allowed to flourish, the cynicism living alongside the optimism, in a merging of cultural and character ideals. Ultimately though, pour yourself a cup of coffee and go see for yourself what’s the craic.
“Big Shot” has music, book, and lyrics by Lauryn Gaffney and is directed by Orla Sheriden and Lauryn Gaffney. “Big Shot” stars Donal Brennan, Sorcha Fenlon, Amy Penston, Sean McMahon, Andrew Smyth, Jamie Hennessy, Katie Jerromes, Finn Lawler-Byrne, Dermot Rankin, Ciara Smith, Ben Collins, Lynn Redmond, Eoin Hammill, Lauren Graham, Georgia Gaffney, Orla Sheridan & Jade Young. Choreography by Orla Sheridan and Mark Kennedy. Producer, PR & Marketing by Grainne MacNeill. Musically Directed by Ben Copper. Creative Director by Jade Young. Sound Design by Dio Garcia. Lighting Design by Paraic McLean. Run time is about ninety minutes, no intermission.
“Big Shot” ran at Teatro LaTea Theatre at The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center (107 Suffolk Street) as part of the Rave Theater Festival. The Rave Theater Festival runs until August 25. For more information, please visit https://ravetheaterfestival.com/
Photo by Des Foley.