nytheatre.com review by Sarah Whalen
August 28, 2010
As we open up our newspapers (or our BlackBerrys, iPhones, or laptops) every single morning, we find ourselves bombarded by the harsh news that we are, in fact, in the midst of a severe economic recession; one that is comparable to the Great Depression. In order to cope, the audiences of the 1930s turned to big, flashy Broadway musicals to keep themselves distracted. And now just when we need it most, a sweeter-than-candy musical comes along that allows us to laugh our cares away and escape for a while. I sat down at the Richmond Shepard Theatre after a long day at work and a few subway transfers, tired and weary, and before I could heave a sigh of relief that my long day was over, the music began, and I found myself completely swept up by the delightful story, the catchy music, and the cheeky humor that composer-lyricist Lou Briggs hand-delivers to his audiences in the adorable new musical, Hollywood! Hollywood!. For all of the tired, weary, struggling, pessimistic New Yorkers out there (and I know you're out there), this musical is just what the doctor ordered.
It's the story of a few young Hollywood hopefuls who spend their days waiting on tables and waiting by the phone for a call from their agents. Well, that's the stereotype, of course. Not all of them wait on tables. There's Trudy, the Avon lady, Jay, the entertainer for all occasions, and Claire, the uptight office temp. And then there are the lovers, Ryan and Melanie, who met a year ago while Melanie was waiting tables at the Hollywood Bar and Grill. One day, after an encounter with Hollywood's most beloved actress, Laura Tanner, Ryan, Melanie, and the gang are forced to weigh the desire for love against the desire for fame and fortune. The struggles they encounter and the challenges they face beg the question that all actors ask themselves at one point or another, "How badly do I want this?" I won't give away the ending, but I will tell you, the finale is a song about smiling. Enough said.
I admit, I have a sweet-tooth for this kind of a thing, but what makes this particular musical so enjoyable, is its own self-awareness, and its "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" kind of humor. Director Marcus Yi makes strong choices throughout the show that help the audience avoid taking anything too seriously. It playfully mocks itself and the musical genre as a whole. For example, at one point, Laura Tanner, played by the stunning and always smiling Trudi Posey, sings a song called "Love Birds," during which, two actors come on stage with an old wooden swing decorated with flowers, and make chirping bird noises, while Posey, in her bright yellow dress, sits on the swing and sings starry-eyed lyrics about love and marriage. Another (cheesy) highlight for me was when Claire meets the love of her life, an ex-Chippendale dancer named Vincent who secretly loves to bake bundt cakes and take bubble baths, and their fantasy of a future together is realized during a song called "A Bathtub Built for Two." And yes, there are lots and lots of bubbles, and some scantily clad men.
Hollywood! Hollywood!, as I've already mentioned, is chock-full of elements that seem to have taken cues from the musicals of the 1930s and '40s. It's adorable, but it also inevitably creates some continuity problems for a modern audience. For example, throughout the show, there are references to Steven Spielberg, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Leonardo DiCaprio, and yet, the characters write letters to each other, wear feather boas, and say things like "So kid you want to be in the pictures?" Small inconsistencies like this made me wish for stronger decisions from the director and lyricist regarding time and place. My only other issue with the show is that it is long. It's a lot to sit through with no intermission and easily be trimmed down, starting with some of the musical numbers that seemed entirely unnecessary. For example, I could do without the five-minute number that takes place in an Italian (or, maybe it was Mexican?) restaurant in New York, where three dancing waitresses put on strange accents and do the tango while singing about how they don't want to go to LA, completely unprovoked. In terms of production, some time could (and should) be shaved off during blackouts and set changes, which occurred in between every single song and sometimes extended for uncomfortably long lengths of time. This, of course, will fix itself in time as the run extends.
Luckily, despite these few qualms I had with the production, I was thrilled with the cast who deliver an exceptionally energetic performance and handle the material beautifully. Namely, Frederick Hamilton as Vincent, who bakes a vanilla-frosted bundt cake in one scene and does a strip tease in another and always managed to hold my attention. Julia Hirsch and Jacob Atom Reilly as Melanie and Ryan are incredibly charming and carry the story along nicely with their undeniable chemistry and their bubble-gum sweet love songs. The voice of the evening belongs to Rebecca Kopec who is outstanding as the brassy, sassy Avon-lady-turned-casting-agent, Trudy.
I warn you, this musical is so sweet you might leave with a toothache, but if you're looking for a good time and some old-fashioned fun, this is definitely the show for you. Just sit back, relax and get ready to laugh!