Tragedy! (A Musical Comedy)
nytheatre.com review by Sean Michael O'Donnell
August 21, 2007
When a musical boasts a song entitled "Rape's Just Another Way of Saying 'I Love You'," it's clearly going to be a very politically incorrect evening. Flaming gay stereotypes, racial epithets, sexual innuendo, and a biting dose of cannibalism populate Michael Johnson's irreverent tribute to one of the Bard's lesser tragedies. Inspired by Shakespeare's terribly convoluted Titus Andronicus, Tragedy! (A Musical Comedy) is a roller-coaster ride of silliness run amok.
With a book written by Mary Davenport and Michael Johnson (with Johnson also writing the lyrics and music as well as directing the production), Tragedy! adheres to the Bard's tale of the murderous Titus Andronicus with surprising dedication. But then, the original just begs for a send-up. Johnson and Davenport are happy to oblige as they gleefully skewer the ludicrously intricate plot...and then set it to music. (Link here for a full synopsis of Titus Andronicus). The music is slightly forgettable, but entertaining in the moment, while a few of the songs offer promise like the catchy Mary Poppins-esque "Super-Awesomeriffic Day."
More than a few of the jokes land with a thud, but the actors are having such a great time with the material it hardly seems to matter. The cast's abilities range from the forgivably uneven to the comically gifted. And while many of the performers possess limited vocal talents, Lauren Huyett's Lavinia is the delightful exception. She wraps her voice perfectly around the ironic "At Least I Can Sing," playing Lavinia as a deranged, sex-starved fairy princess. Thomas Baumgardner, the most gifted actor among the bunch, delivers a hilariously reserved performance as the staid Marcus Andronicus. The very funny Brian Paljug settles nicely into the role of Lucius as the show progresses and his coming-out scene is truly priceless. The dynamic Roger Casey keeps the show together as Aaron the Moor (a.k.a. The Evil Black Person), possessing a natural charisma that carries the show through its weaker moments.
Tragedy! crawls in at just over two hours, running perhaps 30 minutes too long. Johnson's directing becomes a bit self-indulgent as he tries to ring an extended laugh out of every joke and several of the musical numbers could easily be scrapped to tighten the plot. Nevertheless, the show makes for an entertaining diversion. But for my money, anyone who can make Titus Andronicus palatable must be doing something right.