Dream Of The Marionettes
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 26, 2010
La MaMa hadn't opened the house yet, and as I approached, I realized the crowd in front of the theatre included many of the 18 members of Dream of the Marionettes, a burlesque-inspired musical written by Johanna Divine and Christy Leichty. Much to everyone's pleasure they burst into song—an enthusiastic, full-throated rendition of what was to be their musical finale—giving the prospective audience a pleasant preview of what was to come. As it turned out, this preview promised more than the show delivered; or perhaps, they delivered the best the show had to offer—music and vocals. Not a small thing.
Directed by Divine, a talented four-piece band sits unobtrusively stage left. The cast, dressed in bawdy burlesque corsets designed by James Hamby, sing musical numbers that reach into a variety of traditions, such as cabaret, jazz, and swing, and they are entertaining. The real energy of the show kicks in about 20 minutes into the performance when Caroline Helm boldly takes the stage swinging a doll by the foot as she sings a burlesque number—her interpretation of the role of a housewife. The music is by Divine and Daniel Coolik, and they deliver other numbers that satisfy. John Vincent, as a transvestite marionette, conveys a slightly subversive and humorous "The Belle of Mardi Gras." An ensemble number, "I Got A Habit, A Bad Habit," in which the cast assume the roles of nuns and priests, is melodic and, again, funny. And, Apiyo Obala displays her lovely voice in a ballad, "I Want Love with a Little Class," although she could delve deeper for the yearning the song demands.
But, the creators of this would-be nugget wanted more than musical numbers. They wanted plot and a lot of it. In the story, an evil puppet master gets his comeuppance when one of his marionettes, in a fit of pique, shoots him, thereby setting them all free. At first, the 12 marionettes put on their show. Soon, they realize they want edgier, more vengeful material. Eventually, they mellow and they simply want to travel.
Divine and Leichty present Dream of the Marionettes as a three-act musical without intermission. In fact, it is a 70-minute musical revue that is interrupted by a predictable plot that is poorly edited. Bruce Coen, as the puppet master, is goofy, not evil, eliminating the slim premise. Leichty's direction lacks pace, particularly where the story is concerned. This sucks energy from the musical numbers, and dilutes the strengths.
Sparks of interesting choreography (John Vincent) are present when the marionettes end a number with splayed hands framing the puppet master. Just as easily Vincent reaches for the sophomoric in the use of the puppeteer's magic pole. In one number, he has the marionettes mingling in the audience, dispensing candies, and (gasp!) actually collecting a dollar for each.
Focus, focus, focus. It will make the editing process easy.