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A CurtainUp Review
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater at Encores! Off-Center
By Elyse Sommer
Whether intentional or not, the above quotes do indicate that the timing of this production is remarkably timely. If Eliot Rosewater and Norman Mushari weren't fictional characters, you might well have seen narcissistic Norman doing a thumbs up at the Republican Presidential convention in Cleveland and Eliot waving an "I'm With You Bernie and Hillary" posters in Philadelphia.
Since it's taken 37 years to give fans of Vonnegut''s books and the better known Ashman/Menken musicals ((Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaids), younger audience members may not get some of the many cultural references that begin with the novel's subtitle Pearls Before Swine. Nor are they likely to walk out with one of the songs embedded in their ears. That said, the the Gilbert & Sullivan flavor of numbers like "The Rosewater Foundation"" and overall smartness of the lyrics are enjoyable and melodic . This is especially so thanks to the wonderfully versatile cast headed by Santino Fontana as an endearingly ditzy Eliot Rosewater.
Director Michael Mayer, who besides his Broadway credentials (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) is currently represented in London with a revival of Funny Girl has made the most Vonnegut's dark satire that's not just about a society that neglects its poor and under educated, but the entire human race. Like the talent we see Mayer's behind-the-scenes team — choreographer Lorin Latarro, set designer Donyale Werle, costumer Clint Ramos, lighting and sound designers Mark Barton and Leon Rothenberg — all contribute to making all lucky enough to catch one of the all too few performances glad they did.
Since God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is more spoken text heavy than most musicals, this production has the cast rely heavily on the script-in-hand Encores! style that has been less in evidence lately. Since the source is a book, that rather than a script is what the actors carry and rely on.
Despite the abundance of spoken dialogue, the plot serves as a rather rickety foundation for Vonnegut's satirical musings. In short, the musical is harnessed to the wild and wacky, all over the map style.
The zany story does have a hero in the kind-hearted millionaire son (the very endearing Fontana) whose running of the Rosewater Foundation is not quite as intended by the family's lawyer and tex shelter specialist Thurmnd McAllister (Jeff Blumenkrantz). For McAllister's new hire, the ambitious, self-loving Norman Mushari (Skyler Astin), Eliot's over-the-top acts of kindhearted support of any and all arts projects as well as down and out citizens of small towns like his Indiana town of Rosewater chairmanship, is a chance to deal himself into the top one-percent class.
Vonnegut being Vonnegut, his jaundiced view of humankind does not let off the poor folks. They're a slovenly, lazy, decidedly not very admirable lot (but admirably embodied by Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kevin Ligon and Liz McCartney). And Eliot's wife Sylvia (Brynn O'Malley) does not share his philanthrophic mind set; in fact, it gives her a textbook case of a typically Vonnegut type of ailment, "Samaritrophia" which as a psychiatrist explains to Eliot is "a hysterical indifference to the troubles of those less"fortunate than oneself."
To quote Vonnegut's favorite shoulder shrugging "and so it goes", all this and more is narrated by an unseen James Earl Jones, whose booming voice does indeed sound rather God like. Happily Jones does, finally and briefly show up as Eliot's favorite but otherwise unread sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout.
While I usually prefer my novels to be less famtastical, I've been a Vonnegut devotee since Cat's Cradle added the fun of Vonnegutspeak to my vocabulary (describing people with no particuular relevance to me as "grandfalloons" and conversely making those more closely connected part of my karass"). I therefore enjoyed this chance to revisit the loony world of Eliot Rosewater.
As has become usual with any Encores! production, there's always the question: Will these intelligent, well performed lively productions be more than rare opportunities for a brief revisit. In the case of this show: Bravo for bringing it back and in such fine form. But the audience appeal is too special for more than that.
For out review of a rare revival of Vonnegut's only venture into playwrighting, Happy Birthday Wanda June, go here; you can also check out an adaptation of his powerful Slaughtrhouse Five here
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God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Based on novel by Kurt Vonnegut
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Additional lyrics by Dennis Green
Music Director Chris Fenwick
Directed by Michael Mayer
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Cast: Skylar Astin (Norman Mushari), Derrick Baskin (Charley Warmergran/Applicant #1/Um Ray), Jeff Blumenkrantz (Thurmond McAllister), Nick Choksi (Psychiatrist/Executive/John/ Wrter #2/Sgt Boylle,/ Man n Telephone Booth), Eddie Cooper (Jerome Hays/Appicant #2/Paul), Kevin Del Aguila (Noyes Finnerty/Mail Boy/ Ali Writer #1/Fred Rosewater), Santino Fontana (Eliot Rosewater), Clark Johnson, James Earl Jones (Voice not Unlike Go/Kilgore Trout), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Mary Moody/Blanche/Ms Swathmore/Telethon Hostess/Nun), Kevin Ligon (Delbert Peach/Executive/Man in Suicide Parlor/Bill/ Man in Bar), Marla Louissaint ()Marla/Usher/Wheelchair Attendant, Liz McCartney (Diana MoonGlampers/File Clerk/Operator), Bonnie Milligan (Bonnie/Applicant #3/Usher/Kid), Brynn O. Malley (Sylvia Rosewater), and Kate Wetherhead (Dawn Leonard/Artistic Consultant/Waitress/Caroline Rosewater/Alien)
Scenic Design: Donnyale Werle
Costumes: Clint Ramos
Lighting: Mark Barton
Sound: Leon Rothenber
Music Coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Orchestrations: Dannh Troob
Stage Manager: Adam John Hunger
Running Time: 2 hours, including 1 intermission
Encores! Off-Center at City Center 131 West 55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 7/28/16 performance
Overture (Orchestra & Company)
The Rosewater Foundation (Company)
The Rosewater Foundation-Reprise (Santino Fontana)
Dear Ophelia (Santino Fontana)
Thank God For The Volunteer Fire Brigade (Derrick Baskin, Nick Choksi, Eddie Cooper, Kevin Del Aguila, Kevin Ligon, Santiino Fontana, Company)
Mushari. s Waltz - Magical Moment (Skylar Aston)
Thirty Miles—Look Who. s Here (Santino Fontana, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kate Wetherhead, Lz McCartney, Company)
Cheese Nips (Brynn O'Malley, Company)
Rosewater Foundation—2nd Reprise (Derrick Baskin, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Santiino Fontana
Entr . acte (Orchestra, Company)
The Rhode Island Tango (kevin Del Aguila, Kate Wetherhead, Skyler Astin)
Eliot / Sylvia (Santiono Fontana, Brynn O'Malley
Plain Clean Average Americans (Skyler Astin, Kate A Firestorm Consuming Indianapolis (Santino Fontana, Company)
Dear Ophelia-Reprise (Brynn O'Malley)
Eliot Rosewater (Santino Fontana, Company)
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