MoM A Rock Concert Musical
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
October 1, 2010
MoM A Rock Concert Musical hits the stage at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey and the cast of five multi-talented women could not be more perfect. Jane Keitel plays single mom Nancy, a music teacher who dreams of stardom. Bekka Lindstrom plays Melissa, a seemingly reluctant mother who is struggling with her sexuality. Dana Loren McCoy plays Ingrid, a self-confessed drinker and "lady of leisure" who is wife to a famous cellist. She also dreams of stepping into the spotlight herself. Stephanie Seskin plays Catalina, the newest mom in town, who is repressed and unhappily married. And finally Donna Jean Fogel plays Karen, seemingly the most well-adjusted member of the group, who writes the songs and plays her son's drum set.
We learn a bit more about each of these characters through the music as they sing about the dreams and tribulations of their lives. This assembled ensemble is extremely attractive, they sing with authority, and are gifted with the ability to play multiple musical instruments very well. The sheer talent of these remarkable ladies alone will make MoM A Rock Concert Musical worth a visit.
Playwrights Theatre and artistic director John Pietrowski are to be congratulated for departing from the norm and taking a chance on this unique world premiere. The set by Drew Francis is rock-concert-appropriate complete with all the necessary musical instruments and electronic equipment. There are also three large panels behind on which lights, photographs, and videos are projected. This is particularly effective in the second half of the show. The lighting by James Sullivan is fun and playfully highlights the proceedings. And the costumes created by Sarah Cubbage perfectly reflect the women's descent into the wild world of Rock.
A workshop of this show was named best musical at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival. Author Richard Caliban's story of five "soccer moms" who get together to form a band is an intriguing idea that is told through narrative, song, "reenactments," flashbacks, and dream sequences. These multiple "realities," however, do not always work seamlessly, and are particularly confusing during the opening sequences. The book and some of the songs could use some further fine-tuning. When the stories are "reported" rather than actively experienced there is little room for discovery. Also, while I understand the need to see progression in the band's artistic abilities I do believe the women need to display more initial proficiency for us to believe the possibility of their overnight success after only a TV commercial and a fund raising concert at the local high school. This instant success is also problematic because we never see them striving to attain a goal and that gives us no chance to root for them.
The show's genre is also confusing. There are certainly comic elements in the play but the main thrust is far darker and touches on drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuous sex, divorce, and parental negligence—subjects that are inherently not funny and which are treated somewhat cavalierly in this format. According to MoM 4 out of 5 housewives when presented with overnight rock singer success will behave completely irresponsibly, abuse drugs, divorce their husbands, neglect their children, and have as sex as often as possible—all under the guise of "finding themselves." Catalina says, " I had to become a teenager in order to grow up." This self-centeredness inhibits our ability to relate to and connect with the characters. They may sing well but we don't really care what happens to them. Melissa's son calls her "The artist formerly known as mom." At times, these rock chicks seem more interested in living the "wild rock lifestyle" than in artistically expressing themselves through their music.
We are asked to suspend our disbelief once again and buy the idea that songs like "Moms in Thongs" would garner an audience around the world great enough to propel these "middle aged moms" into international rock stardom. These far-fetched plot points would likely work better if the show were an out-and-out comedy.
Caliban could not have received a better production of his play. He has directed the show energetically, his cast is superb, the design works well, and the show has many entertaining moments. Caliban's score also showcases some excellent music like "The River" and "When I Was Girl." It is my hope that as a new production with great potential, Mom A Rock Concert Musical will continue to be developed and find a stronger, more clearly delineated identity.