Bail Out: The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 11, 2009
There are several very clever ideas underlying Bail Out The Musical, the newest collaborative theatre piece created by Wreckio Ensemble. Chief among them is the one that gives the piece its title—the (regrettably fanciful) notion that among the industries chosen by the federal government for a bailout during this recession of ours would be the Broadway musical. The show imagines what would happen if a group of avant-garde/experimental performance artists decided to pursue such funding by creating a new musical that would satisfy their own artistic objectives while being palatable to the conservative mainstream.
Which leads us to the next fun idea in Bail Out The Musical: that contemporary performance artists along the lines of the famed "NEA 4" have cultish fans in the American Heartland who are desperate to be just like them. The main character of Bail Out is a young woman named Sept Ember who has spent her last dime to get to New York from Wisconsin so that she can become an off-off-Broadway star; she's like the Ruby Keeler character from 42nd Street with off-kilter aspirations. This is a funny idea, but it's also where Bail Out gets itself into some trouble.
What happens is, the five performance artists who Sept hooks up with—several of whom are her professed idols—are washed-up, waaay-oooout exemplars of a type that practically doesn't exist. One is a mime; one is some kind of conceptual media artist who stages happenings/interventions at political events; one is a very nervous man whose forte is performing poetry in German. Only one of Wreckio's characters—a post-feminist burlesque artist—seems connected to the indie theater sector that I know and love. The rest are the same kind of caricatures that pervade mainstream impressions of our world: they're nutty and wacky and so obsessed with political integrity that their work is utterly inaccessible; incomprehensible, even. Bail Out The Musical posits that if five off-off-Broadway/performance artist "stars" tried to collaborate on a musical to win a government grant, that they'd be laughably out of their league. But that's simply not true: Taylor Mac and several dozen of his collaborators just proved that thesis wrong with their remarkable show The Lily's Revenge.
So it would seem that the folks at Wreckio are suffering from a kind of collective inferiority complex about the vital place of indie/off-off-Broadway theatre in the entertainment food chain. This constantly got in my way at Bail Out The Musical.
There are some fun and smart moments here: a Fosse-esque number built around a recipe is the highlight, but there are other clever segments in the proposed show-within-the-show. The cast of six all deliver high-energy performances, with the standouts being Billy Pelt as Otto the Mime and Randi Berry as the lovable Sept Ember. Kimberlea Kressal's effective direction keeps the show moving and on track throughout.