My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding
nytheatre.com review by Avery Pearson
October 6, 2010
The Canadian writing duo of David Hein and Irene Sankoff test socio-political norms and come out with a relevant and pathos-filled musical guaranteed to please and challenge the most critical of New York audience members. As The Drowsy Chaperone became the sweetheart of the Toronto Fringe Festival back in 1999, so too did My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding in 2009. Fortunately, MMLJWW now sits in our collective lap at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
In My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding—a title befitting hit status—Hein divulges his personal story from an upbringing in a bickering nuclear Nebraskan family to the transformation into an open and modern split family where each parent remarries a woman. The audience at the show I saw sat joyfully and tapped toes as Hein's mother Claire, played with moving conviction and excellent comedic timing by Broadway vet Liz Larsen, succumbs to the reality that with openness comes inner growth.
The story takes off after Hein's parents' split, as Claire finds work in Ottawa, Canada and leaves her Nebraskan roots and family. We then follow her trials of starting over, adjusting, and meeting a new crowd. This crowd happens to be lesbians and during a recreational choir rehearsal we see the makings of new love between Claire and choir member Jane—played by the exuberant and grounded Ann Harada—in a gorgeous arrangement called Rosebush. Without ruining this well-oiled journey, we are taken through the trials and tribulations of Claire facing her new sexuality. She learns about civil and gay rights, explores the self, and watches as her son grows into an understanding and capable adult (played as a teenager by Lev Pakman in a funny and crowd-pleasing performance).
Along the way, we are treated to the very likable Hein and Sankoff's energetic, politically poignant, and hilariously timed deadpan performances. MMLJWW is a beautifully personal story that engages a very pertinent topic in gay marriage. In one rousing number, entitled "Short History of Gay Marriage," Hein systematically and chronologically takes the audience on a 40-year journey from equal rights marches in the '60s through the fight for equality in marriage in Canada in the '90s to current comparisons in the United States. He celebrates the groundbreaking achievement that Canada became the fourth country in the world to legally make equal straight and gay marriage. Then with a nicely juxtaposed number, Hein warns the audience to never arrange for your new girlfriend to meet your mother and her new girlfriend at a Hooters restaurant—sound advice. In this number, the radiant Christina DeCicco lights up the stage as a dim-witted Hooters server struggling to understand how any Hooters patron would rather order salad than wings while displaying her abilities with a hula hoop—it's a hoot! Couldn't resist.
Director Stafford Arima skillfully induces lovely performances out of his actors; his work is complemented by some hilarious choreography by Matt Williams. This tandem, along with a rocking band, made the audience feel comfortable while dealing with challenging issues in a musical format. This is not a simple task and one that can push the theatre forward in a TV world where Glee reins supreme.
Hein and Sankoff's entertainingly pertinent story is already taking off in the Great White North. In a day and age where Broadway seeks a new hit, we can only hope that an astute producer will come along (much in the way that The Drowsy Chaperone took off out of the Toronto Fringe) and see My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding for what it is—an engaging and definitive modern tale of personal growth highlighted by humor with a kick-ass musical score that rocks the house.