Friday, June 14, 2024

Theater Review: Scandalous People at the Fringe

Scandalous People
Scandalous People: A Sizzling Jazzical
marks the latest effort from New York’s burgeoning Fringe Festival, which chose as a slogan this year, "New York’s Best Staycation."  Unfortunately, Scandalous People hardly provides an excuse to stay for the second act, much less stay in the City.  This sloppy, amateurish production, despite its respectable cast and its saucy title, disappoints at nearly every opportunity.  It’s like sitting down to watch Top Chef and all anybody can make is Jell-O.  You’re like, "That’s it?  That’s the best you can do?"

The show has a decent premise:  black entertainers in late ’20s Harlem get a chance at the big leagues.  Of course, that chance comes with strings attached.  Plot line sound familiar?  In this version, however, Effie isn’t pushed off to the sidelines.  Her name is Dez, and she’s married to the big cheese, although he still has a thing for her sister.  But the love triangle isn’t really the main plot.  Dez and her husband Dewey run a show at a Harlem speakeasy, and a gangster wants to put it on Broadway.  There are all sorts of issues that naturally arise when a gangster wants to put a show on Broadway.  For example, Mae West wants to be in the show, and there’s a drag queen called Trixie.  Sound confusing?  It is.  The structural problems are complicated by the fact that the microphones cut out at least once a scene.  Given that I saw the show on the second to last night, I can only assume that the sound department never did and never will get it together, and the disjointed, chemistry-free scenes heighten the chaos, instead of any dramatic tension.  Take, for example, the scene where the love triangle is introduced.  (And I’m paraphrasing shamelessly here):

SISTER: I want to be in your show, Mr. Dewey.

DEWEY: Mwah mffff wlll. (They do a single time step. She impresses him by doing– oh my God!– a triple time step.) You can dance, mmfffflll.

DEZ’ SISTER: Mwah hdllmrff. (She throws her leg up on his shoulder.)

Mwah, mwah, mwah?  You’d think you were watching a Charlie Brown’s Christmas special and the muffled mouth teacher just entered the room!   Anywho, we can only assume that he drags her awkwardly off stage to do "the nasty".

Only the FIERCE Dancers Apply!In the next scene Dez comes in to audition for the show as well, and for no reason whatsoever Dewey seems to fall for Dez without mentioning that he just did her sister.  The sister, in a completely unrealistic turn of events, decides not to tell her sister that they are "in love," (ie, doing the nasty in the wings) and sings the worst song in the music theatre lexicon almost completely off-pitch.  It is at this point that my sister leans over to remind me of our little sister’s 7th grade vocal recital. "At least when they butchered Honey Bun, you had Charles deBarber dancing around in a coconut bra," she whispered.

Nirine S. Brown as the sister is truly a lovely dancer, but she needs to work on her song, to say the least.  The rest of the cast try hard, but polishing turds makes for a long and thankless work. Jennifer Swirderski does a lovely Mae West impression and is terrific in the show’s title number.  I find Mae West impressions overdone and predictable, which is ironic given that West herself was completely unpredictable.  However, Swirderski’s West does inject the script with some much-needed wit: the lines I could hear are well-played and funny.  Obediah Wright’s choreography is smart and enjoyable and boosts the show with some much-needed dynamics.  Eugene Fleming anchors the show as Dewey with his smooth singing voice and easy, yet commanding stage presence.

But despite the show’s best intentions: despite its intriguing historical premise and and jazz score, despite the pedigree creative team, including Broadway’s own Fredi Walker-Browne directing, who created the role of Joanne in the original Rent, the show never comes together.  It is an agonizing evening of theatre.  If it’s between seeing this and seeing your sister’s grade school music recital, I would recommend the recital, with or without the coconut bra.

idanz_critix_corner-small iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Molly Sorohan
Performance:  Scandalous People
Director/Choreographer:  Fredi Walker-Browne, Director/ Obediah Wright, Choreographer
Venue: Minetta Lane Theatre, New York International Fringe Festival
Performance Date:  Friday, September 28,  2009

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