Neal Medlyn's Unpronounceable Symbol
nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
July 10, 2008
With a small but growing body of work, Neal Medlyn has quickly found a niche in creating pop song tragicomic extravaganzas by taking inspiration from varied artists such as Lionel Richie, R. Kelly, and Phil Collins. In Neal Medlyn's Unpronounceable Symbol, his muse this time around is Prince, and much like that artist, Medlyn and friends deliver an outsized and operatic spectacle befitting its downtown venue.
With his diminutive and petite stature, Prince has always created a hyper-sexualized and lush sound that also translates to his personality and the world around him. To much delight, Medlyn recognizes this contrast, because part of the comedy in this show is to see a tall and skinny white man in oversized red framed eyeglasses wearing spandex leggings and a too-small ruffled shirt cavorting about on stage while singing some of Prince's hit songs. Backed by a live band performing onstage, there is a narrative of sorts—perhaps taking cues from Prince's film, Purple Rain (of course)—where Medlyn plays both Neal, a naive cabbie, and Jerry, the bad boy rock star, who fall for each other despite the machinations of a villainous bandmate (Carmine Covelli in a wickedly fun turn) and other unusual conflicts of the seminal kind. Medlyn plays it straight for the most part even when the story takes a bizarre departure that involves hell and being attacked by phalluses.
Medlyn is joined on stage by frequent co-collaborator Kenny Mellman (best known as Herb of Kiki & Herb), who also provides the musical arrangements and direction. The other cast and band members are also part of Medlyn's downtown performance world. Mostly, the production reminded me of playing out your rock star fantasies with your best mates backing you up. Medlyn, however, invites the audience to laugh along.