nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
May 2, 2009
Rule of thumb when it comes to a one-person show: if you are not a fan of the headliner, you shouldn't go see the production. I don't like Will Ferrell or George W. Bush, I didn't go to see You're Welcome America. If you are not a fan of Sherie Rene Scott, the "Broadway semi-star," as she describes herself, chances are you won't like her one-woman musical, Everyday Rapture, written by Scott with Dick Scanlan, at Second Stage Theater.
Granted, if you are a fan of Scott, as I am, your enjoyment of Everyday Rapture is still debatable. Scott and her back-up singers (Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolfe) wrap their voices around the collected works of Mr. Rogers, jazz standards like "Get Happy" and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," and newer works like "Killing me Softly," all given boffo musical treatment by orchestrator/arranger Tom Kitt and the six-piece band (led by Carmel Dean). You'll be disappointed if you're expecting an array of show tunes; that there's only one ("My Strongest Suit," her signature number from Aida) is a plus for us theater-fans who don't want to hear a concert of them.
The operative word is "concert." Everyday Rapture is a lovely concert. But there's a story, too.
Scott plays a version of herself, "Sherie Rene Scott," half-Mennonite from Topeka, Kansas, member of the Westboro Baptist Church, and family friend of Fred Phelps. She discovers Judy Garland from her gay cousin, who later dies of AIDS and has his funeral protested by Phelps and Co. She learns to accept her body and mind after watching Mr. Rogers (the psycho-sexual connotation to classics like "I Like to be Told" is horrifyingly funny). She loses her virginity while on Rumspringa (the opportunity for Amish adolescents to "run around" and decide whether or not to be baptized) to a New York City street magician and has an abortion in Kansas City. Later, she becomes a big Broadway "second-lead" who has time enough to contact the teenagers lipsyncing her songs on YouTube.
The audience is unaware that Scott is playing a version of herself and that a number of the stories may or may not be true (I only figured it out after reading press notes). Whereas Martin Short in a show of the same mold was able to sell both songs and stories, Scott's lack of warmth and very apparent struggle to find the wink in the material leaves her only able to sell the songs. And sell them she does. I would love for these songs with these arrangements, sung only as Scott can, to be preserved on her next album. Perhaps by Sh-K-Boom Records, the Grammy winning label she and husband Kurt Deutsch own (there's no mention of it in the show).
The script isn't particularly exciting; Scott is telling stories that are heartfelt in her own mind but the reasonable doubt that they're true, in retrospect, destroys the potential for power. The piece really comes to life in the journey through YouTube, where she invites an unsuspecting audience teenager (played with gusto by Eamon Foley) to join her on stage and act as the YouTube kid she harassed with emails trying to gain his acceptance and belief that she was actually emailing him. Foley's facial expressions steal the show right out from Scott's hands. True or not, (and I'd like to think it is true, as it would give credence to everything that I've ever imagined about vain actors), it's wonderful. The actual video has been removed from YouTube by the user himself, no doubt after hearing that Scott is using it as fodder.
Michael Mayer's staging and Michelle Lynch's choreography don't really get in the way of Scott's going full-out and the designs—Christine Jones (set), Tom Broecker (costumes), and Kevin Adams (lighting)—are unobtrusive. Only the sound (Brian Ronan) causes a bit of a problem in its over amplification.
It's strange to me that a company like Second Stage, devoted to the development of new artists and to provide "second stagings" to others, would include a show like this in their season's programming. Everyday Rapture doesn't belong there; it belongs at the Carlyle or the Allen Room. Still, it's worth it for that voice.