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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Marry Harry

Following every new trend . .. there's no integrity.
Monday Shrimp Tikka
Tuesday Shrimp Teriyaki
Wednesday Shrimp Taco
Thursday Shrimp Souvlaki
Friday Shrimp Fricasee
Saturday Shrimp Chow Mein
Sunday Shrimp Parmesan

— Little Harry
New Jersey welcomed the arrival this season of American Theater Group, a new professional theater. Although I was unable to attend its inaugural production, my trek to see their second and current show at the Hamilton Stage in Rahway was rewarding for several reasons.

Worth mentioning at the start is that the comfortable (plenty of leg room) and modern 199 seat theater is close to the center of town with a number of restaurants in easy walking distance from the theater which also offers free on-site parking. It is also around the corner from the well-established and attended Union County Performing Arts Center, a beautifully restored movie palace. It is, in fact, an enviable location for a new theater primarily dedicated to developing new work — making this downtown section of Rahway even more of a cultural hub.

Notwithstanding the laudable mission and ambition of the American Theater Group, the three co-producing artistic directors (James Vagias, Rick Sordelet and Joseph Mancuso)have to be prepared to face the music when the show they have produced is still clearly a work-in-progress. Though many among the close-to-capacity audience opening night of Marry Harry laughed heartily, applauded appreciatively and could be heard commenting favorably, the creative team members have their work cut out for them if they expect to see their overly frenetic romantic lark reach its musical and comical potential.

Marry Harry debuted last summer at the New York Theater Musical Festival under the direction of Kent Nicholson (who continues in charge). Its primary impediment to success is an inane book that doesn't allow its key characters opportunities to be more winningly defined. Despite this, the terrifically talented (all Equity) cast is having quite a wacky and wild time singing and cavorting to the show's eighteen lively and enlivening tunes composed by Dan Martin (music) and Michael Biello (lyrics). They make the most of the completely nonsensical, illogical path of the basically preposterous book by Jennifer Robbins, ostensibly based on an unproduced screenplay by one of its co-writers John Manocherian.

The show follows Little Harry (Howie Michael Smith) who dreams of becoming a world-class chef while working as a cook in his widower father Big Harry's (Danny Rutigliano) generations-old family restaurant on Manhattan's Lower East Side. With the restaurant failing to make money and three months behind in the rent, Big Harry's idiotic plan to bring in new patrons is to change the cuisine daily, from Italian to Mexican, to Japanese etc. with the staff dressed in appropriate ethnic attire. THis is not the most absurd direction taken by the plot. Little Harry's romance with Sherry the landlady's daughter gets off to a reckless start right after she discovers her fiance has been cheating on her. Twenty four hours later and after one night in bed they announce their engagement. This appears as a boon to big harry who sees it as a way to save the restaurant. Unfortunately it doesn't save the story. There are further loony antics by the restaurant's staff (Andrew Chappelle, Tamara Young and Jenna Dallacco) who also double as x-rated performance artists.

Smith, who played the dual roles of Princeton/Rod over 1,000 times in the Broadway production of Avenue Q, is endearing as the befuddled Little Harry who may have second thoughts about marriage but not about how best to express his feelings to Sherri with his splendid tenor voice. As Sherri, Louis grapples charmingly between her need for independence and her desire to not screw up a good thing.

Woodall bellows imperiously as Francine, the battleaxe with a soft heart. I could see how Rutigliano must have been a perfect fit for the title role of the blustery Fiorello in the City Center Encore Series and gets my vote as the bumbling entrepreneur Big Harry. Also standout is Ragussa as his steadfast girlfriend Debby.

The snappy score reaches genuine hilarity with a madcap motor-mouth delivery of "Nonnina's Biscotti" by the ensemble. Curiously, the show ends abruptly in less than two hours including an intermission.

Bethanie Wampol's impressive unit restaurant kitchen setting and set pieces for other locations are all designed for speedy changes. The four piece band, under the direction of Ming Aldrich-Gan, is top-notch as are all the technical credits. More biscotti please.

Marry Harry
Book by Jennifer Robbins
Music by Dan Martin, Lyrics by Michael Biello
Directed by Kent Nicholson
Cast: Andrew Chappelle (Male Ensemble/Dance Captain), Jenna Dallacco (Female Ensemble 1), Jillian Louis (Sherry), Sue-Yenn Ng (Female Ensemble 2), Michele Ragusa (Debby), Danny Rutigliano (Big Harry), Howie Michael Smith (Little Harry), April Woodall (Francine)
Set Design: Bethanie Wampol
Lighting Design: Grant Yeager
Costume Design: Stefanie Genda
Musical Director: Ming Aldrich-Gan
Choreography: Wendy Seyb
Orchestrations: Dan Martin
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes including intermission
American Theater Group at the Hamilton Stage, 360 Hamilton Street, Rahway, NJ(732) 499-8226
Tickets: $30.00 - $35.00 Performances: Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm
From 04/23/14 Opened 04/26/14 Ends 05/11/14
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 04/26/14 >
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