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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review- Whatever Man (NYMF)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

Whatever Man, (book, music and lyrics written by Benjamin Strouse) is the story of hapless Charlie (Colin Hanlon) in love with got-it-all-together Anna (Kristin Maloney) who attends group counselling at her request so that they can take their relationship further.  Anna's a go-getter, Charlie's a couch potato but somehow they're in love.  At group therapy Charlie meets a gaggle of misfits, one of whom turns out to be "The Swan" (Paolo Montalban) who is hiding in our world from Mr. Perfect (David Andrew Anderson) who has followed him here from another universe (multiverse) and starts attending group therapy too in an effort to get The Swan to go back.  Mr. Perfect tells everyone that if The Swan doesn't come back to where he belongs, the Evil Singularity will devour the world.  The Swan just wants to hang out on earth and learn from Charlie how to be funny.  As the story progresses more and more super (or less than super) heroes reveal themselves which is great for Anna who is this story's own little Lois Lane.  Eventually good and evil meet and it all ends with a battle that's been done a million times before.  Think Harry Potter battling Voldemort in The Goblet of Fire - but with less special effects.  Think Gandalf battling Saruman in Lord of the Rings - but lower to the ground. Think Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby on Dynasty - but with less shoulder pads. You get it.

Paolo Montalban | photo credit: Julian Rad

This musical is more of a paradox that constantly contradicts itself than a well constructed musical.  While the message of the show (that even a little guy, a woebegone "loser" still finding himself  can save the world) is a good one, the way it is told is more comical than funny; the premise is all right but the execution needs work.  Scenes flow one into another and seem to have no reason to them.  We are given a lot of needless repetition, but nothing much gets accomplished.  One by one, more "superheroes" are unveiled but they all just want to open stores or brand products.  No one wants to save the world, though they all have the power to do so.  To make that point twice reinforces it.  To make that point five times is simply needless.  

Benjamin Strouse is obviously a talented composure; his music was complex, lush, toe tapping, catchy and enjoyable, with perfectly entwined harmonies.  His lyrics, however, relied on such old rhyming chestnuts as strong/wrong ... end/friend ... honey/funny ... sea/free.  Fabulous voices of the very talented cast were left to wander through songs that seem to pause the show rather than advance it at all, and even though the house was packed at the end of each musical number the audience waited a beat before applauding, more out of duty than in appreciation.  Again, the extremely talented cast deserved more for their efforts.

Finally, if you're not going to have actual choreography, employing a number of shudders and tics that go in time to the music should be avoided.  Choreographer Dax Valdes may have been a bit compromised due to the smallness of the stage, which I understand, but what was finally played out on stage looked less like dancing and more like American Sign Language.  It distracted rather than enhanced, and in songs that needed everything to come together in order to bring it home, distraction was the last thing the songs could afford.

With a little tweaking, some shortening, and perhaps another lyricist, Whatever Man could have some promise.  But for now, it evokes no more of a reaction than its title predicts.

The New York Musical Theatre Festival presents
Whatever Man
45th Street Theater

Final performance: Thursday, October 8th at 1pm. For tickets and more information visit

45th Street Theater | 354 W 45th Street | Manhattan.

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