nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
November 12, 2011
What happens when Adler and Ross steal your idea? You go to the Soviet Union, perhaps under penalty of death, and write musicals there. That, in a nutshell, sums up Iron Curtain, Stephen Weiner, Peter Mills and Susan DiLallo’s deliriously entertaining musical from the mid-2000s, now being revived at Baruch Performing Arts Center in a production once again directed by Cara Reichel for Prospect Theater Company.
Howard Katz and Murray Finkel have just blown an audition with a major producer. As it turns out, another team beat them to a musical version of The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant. Damn Yankees is on the fast track for production, while Katz and Finkel’s "Faust Ball" will never see the light of day. Down on their luck, they answer an unmarked ad in Variety looking for songwriters to help doctor a new musical. Next thing they know, they’re bound and gagged and shipped to the Soviet Union, to begin work on a show for The Ministry of Musical Persuasion—literally under the gun.
It’s always thrilling when a team manages to successfully emulate that which they’re parodying, and Weiner, Mills and DiLallo do a mighty fine job of capturing the Golden Age style (down to their ending, where all of the major plot twists and turns are resolved in a matter of seconds.) DiLallo’s book captures the screwball nature of musicals like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, with a clever and seemingly endless succession of one-liners and name gags. (Katz and Finkel are told their hotel will be like living in the lap of luxury. It’s called the Lapov Luxury.) Weiner (music) and Mills’ (lyrics) score is simple, hummable, pretty and complete with a dizzying assortment of terrifically unconventional rhymes.
The dynamite cast of 15 is led by David Perlman as the sweetly naïve Murray and Todd Alan Johnson as the dour Howard. They’re joined by Jenn Gambatese as Murray’s love interest Masha Patrovna Haylukmiova (read it out loud), Maria Couch as Howard’s love interest Shirley Dooley, Aaron Ramey as a menacing KGB agent, Gordon Stanley as the Russian theatrical producer Onanov (read it out loud), and Bobbi Kotula as a whip-snapping German director. The hardworking ensemble makes Christine O’Grady’s energetic choreography look simple.
Reichel and her design team—Brian Prather on sets, Sidney Shannon on costumes and Doug Harry on lighting—use the space to their full advantage, and don’t skimp out on giving this big musical the look it deserves. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s a bit too long, but that can be forgiven. Iron Curtain is further proof that the two most glorious words in the English language are, in fact, Musical Comedy.