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A CurtainUp Review
Five Course Love
By Elyse Sommer
Though the title implies a full course musical meal, what you get is a grazing menu of five mini-musicals set in as many restaurants. For audiences, the sketches are more occasionally tasty snack food than solid nourisment. However, for its cast of three the fifteen parts in five different musical styles are a strut-your-stuff feast. Heather Ayers gets to play all the women. John Bolton has swapped his gig as the understudy for the five leads in Spamalot for five opportunities to be onstage for every performance as all of Ayers' romantic opposites. Jeff Gurner takes on the roles of all the waiters.
It's the performers' versatility and energy in executing the segues from one musical genre to another that makes the at times inspired silliness work even if it often seems better suited to a cabaret venue. Not that the Minetta Lane stage doesn't accommodate G.W. Mercier's simple scenic design for the demented romantic interludes that begin and end with a character named Matt (John Bolton), "a very single man/who is trying the best he can/to be a more plural boy."
Under Emma Griffin's nimble direction, a few chairs and tables are all that's needed to effect the culinary scene shifts: down home Texas Bar-B-Que joint (naturally, with country western beat). . . a Trattoria (for an operatic Soprano-ish triangle). . . a German cabaret (blending Kander & Ebb with Kurt Weill) . . . a Mexican Cantina (for a sexy Latin triangle. . . an anywhere in the USA diner (for some doo-wop).
Wearing his second hat as the show's costumer, Mercier has gone all out to create numerous wearable sight gags -- even the musicians don't get away with plain clothes but are provided with chef's hats to set the overall scene. With such a daunting number of costume as well as hairdo changes (courtesy Bettie D. Rogers), the trio often seems to be at least a sextet and must be as busy backstage as when they are on -- though Coffin has thoughtfully arranged things so that there's always one character on stage to engage the audience while the others go into quick-change mode.
Despite the diverse and spirited performances the show suffers from too much of a good thing. The individual segments tend go on too long (each section has three to five songs). The music is pleasant with several standouts like Bolton and Ayers' operatic "Give Me This Night" and the Brechtian "Gretchen's Lament." (Ayers again). The lyrics vary from clever to trite and seem to stretch too hard for a rhyme. Choreographer Mindy Cooper does her best with "The Bunsen-Krantzentanz," Coffin's invented term for a daffy polka.
Something especially good can be said about each of the three performers, though my own favorite was the captivating and strong of voice Heather Ayers who first crossed my radar at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires. (Someone ought to write a show for Heather and her equally talented sister Becca).
The riffs on the various musical styles do add a special something to this homage to the likes of Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett. However, performed live, this is a show that would work best in a cabaret style theater with audience members seated at a table with nibbles and a glass of something to keep them feeling mellow and primed to laugh at even the flimsiest jokes.
In case it's a special inducement, Five-Course Love is probably the first musical ever to have a song especially written for the usual announcement about emergency exits, recording devices, cell phones and such.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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>6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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