nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 18, 2007
Minimum Wage, twice a breakout hit at the New York International Fringe Festival (2002 and 2006) and at least once additionally elsewhere in NYC, is now installed in the downstairs space (The Green Room aka Lafayette Street Theatre) at 45 Bleecker.
This is an audience show. It starts with the five cast members casually wandering through the audience, giving out hats (for "Happy Burger," the fictitious, vaguely Orwellian fast food mega-chain which is the show's main subject), passing out "job applications" with pencils to fill them out, schmoozing and asking leading questions and sometimes putting the answers on videotape. It's interactivity of the easiest, most relaxed kind, and that continues through the very end of Minimum Wage, when one lucky audience member wins a prize for congeniality and everybody in the crowd gets to participate in a lively finale that features three-part harmony (from the audience!).
Much of what happens in between is quite silly, but some of it is on-target parody and some of it—the best parts, to my mind—is grand music-making of the first order. Minimum Wage is hard to peg because it's such a scattershot amalgamation of all the stuff that its creator/stars, the irrepressible LaGreca Brothers, like to do. One of the things they do exceptionally well is sing a cappella, and with their co-stars Bill Caleo, Tony Daussat, and Elena Meulener, they make, during the course of the evening, some beautiful, joyful noise. The "Minimum Wage Theme" typifies the selections—sophisticated harmonizing that sets satirical and sometimes silly lyrics to lovely upbeat melodies. The program includes a variety of musical styles, and everything sounds superb. There's even a completely non-comic selection, "Dreams," that could be lifted out of this show and done absolutely anywhere.
Credit for these beautiful sounds goes to the cast, of course, and also to Sean Altman, who composed the songs with Charlie and Jeff LaGreca, as well as music director Will Bryan and arranger Warren Bloom.
In between the songs come sketches and vignettes that (mostly) attempt to "teach" the audience—who are playing the role of students at the Happy Burger Training College—the ins and outs of working in the fast food biz. Some of this material is hilarious—the stuff about a cook's (sexual) obsession with his "G-R-I-L-L," which leads into one of the best songs, is pretty funny, for example—and a lot of it riffs on the scary/exploitative nature of the capitalist monoliths at the center of this particular industry. Plenty of the skits veer off on tangents, frequently of the adolescent-teenage-boy variety; an appreciation for Star Trek, comic books, and the like will help you get a lot of the jokes that, I must confess, went right over my head.
But the ambience here is all about good-natured fun, and between the high-energy clowning and hijinks of the cast and the blessedly lovely singing, it's hard not to leave smiling. That said, I suspect that the 10:30 Saturday night shows feel more fun than the 8:00 weeknight shows, because Minimum Wage is loose late-night entertainment more than it's mainstream musical comedy. And I'm not sure that the deep, high-ceilinged, sort-of cavernous basement that is the Green Room/Lafayette Street Theatre is the ideal playing space for this show: Minimum Wage wants to leap off the stage and into your lap (metaphorically) and this venue prohibits that, for the most part; we're just too far away from the performers for most of the show to make the connection that the show really needs to spark.
But I suspect that this is just the latest stop in an ever-evolving spiral onward and upward for this spunky little-show-that-could. Who knows where it might land next; for now, park your decorum and assumptions at the top of the stairs and have a good-ole-time at Minimum Wage.