SUV: The Musical!
nytheatre.com review by George Hunka
August 13, 2005
If you’ve got a show that can keep the audience laughing through the scene changes, you’ve got a very special thing indeed. SUV: The Musical, with songs by Marc Dinkin and a book by Newsweek Online columnist Gersh Kuntzman, is a perfect show for the hot and humid summertime blues: a breezy, sloppy, all-over-the-place crowd pleaser with a few mordant observations on the American love affair with All Things Large just to keep things sharp.
The plot, so far as it can be summarized, has something to do with the size-obsessed Dick Johnson (Christian Maurice), who is anxiously looking forward to his Behemoth Motor Corporation’s unveiling of a new, gigantic, gas-guzzling, environmentally-hostile SUV, the Destroyer. This raises the pained ire of career environmental activist Max Blank, who seems to have transported in from the 1970s (Adam Wolfsdorf). An automobile accident involving Blank and Johnson’s wife Sarah (Dina Plotch), however, leads to romance and unforeseen consequences. Add to this mix a lovelorn crash test dummy (Jerry Miller) and a chador-chasing Saudi Arabian bureaucrat (the striking Derek Roland), and … well, you get the picture. That it all ends up in a kooky courtroom presided over (in this production) by the playwright is predictable, but not excessively so.
Unfortunately, in juggling all these disparate plots, Kuntzman sometimes reveals his virgin status in the musical-comedy world by dropping one or two of them now and again. The story complications sometimes threaten to overwhelm the general careless cheer of the enterprise (and also add up to more than two intermissionless hours of playing time, which stretches the patience of audiences these days). Still, his light touches here and there—including a delightful reference to Watergate’s Deep Throat and All the President’s Men that I won’t ruin—keep cast and audience on their toes.
Dinkin’s ‘70s-pop-influenced score is well-performed by a four-piece band that he leads himself, and his lyrics are as clever as Kuntzman’s book. Those of them I could hear, anyway; the opening performance was plagued by some Satanically-possessed body-miking system that, sadly, robbed Jen Kersey (as Johnson’s preternaturally irritable daughter) of her entire solo number. At the end of the show, Kersey wisely returned to the stage with a hand-held wireless mike. (The program lists no credit for sound design, and believe me, that’s just as wise.) Fortunately, this audio problem didn’t hinder the appreciation of Eric Oleson’s energetic staging, Katie Workum’s choreography, or Gian Marco Lo Forte’s minimalist and often imaginative sets.
To fill things out, a tip of the hat to the rest of the cast, too, particularly the three-strong chorus, who play multiple roles. Stephanie Roy and Chris Griggs brightly contribute to the general festivities, but a special shout-out must go to Kenny Wade Marshall as Spiros. I haven’t heard songs belted out like that since Ethel Merman bodyslammed “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in the '50s; no problem with a non-functioning body-mike there.