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|A CurtainUp Review
People Are Wrong
The excellent band (positioned right on stage), the catchy music and the vivacious singing help Herskovits achieve half his goal. The story Greenberg and Goldwasser have concocted for their sung-through rock pop-era is another matter. It evokes enough remembrances of things past to undercut Herskovits' talk about this show heralding something new and daring.
The basic premise is this: Terri (Erin Hill) and Russ (John Flansburgh) are a young upscale couple who buy a weekend house and discover that bucolic life isn't as tranquil and serenely green as it's cracked up to be. Sound like the Blandings and their famous dream house? This being a musical, fast forward that black and white film image to The Rocky Horror Show. Janet and Brad-- excuse me, I mean, Terry and Russ -- meet up with Xanthus (David Driver). He's the landscape expert they hire who turns out to really head a peculiar cult whose members are all Agway employees. Xanthus isn't quite as scary and mad as Frank-n-Furter, but his reaction to their chopping down a "sacred" maple tree gives a surreal enough twist to the story to make its aim at offbeat cult status all too apparent. Xanthus starts building a space ship for a return to the 6th dimension, there are intimations that Terry and Russ' idyll will turn into a killing field. Don't ask! Oh, yes, to legitimize the Terri and Russ relationship, there's a stylish wedding planner (Maggie Moore) who arrives just in time to insure a happy ending for all concerned.
While all this silliness plays out in a brisk hour and forty minutes, it just isn't fresh and funny enough to turn this cult story into a cult show. Greenberg and Goldwasser clearly know how to create story-advancing tunes, but People Are Wrong, like Rusty Magee's The Green Heart, is not likely to see its green thumb metaphor blossom.
Unlike the Vineyard's big hit, Avenue Q (review), which successfully pulled in the much sought after under thirty audience but also charmed their elders, this show seems limited to under thirty, rock music enthusiasts. That's not to say that it isn't possible for lightning to strike twice. The new musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee proved to be a hit with just such an audience when it premiered at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires ( review), and will soon have a chance to charm New York theater goers when it comes to the Second Stage.
Unfortunately, as the director has been more successful in tapping into this show's concert sensibility , the theatrical staging has an unfinished, unpolished look. He does make good use of the theater's side balconies, and Xanuth's entrance from the aisle but the predominately grass green and brown set and costumes aren't particularly attractive ( this also goes for the grassy curtain at the entrance to the theater).
The cast overall sings and dances exceptionally well. David Driver's voice almost makes up for his somewhat underwhelming charisma. And while Robin Goldwasser's presence on stage as Joyce, the Agway manager is a definite asset, having her husband and half of the rock band They Might Be Giants play Russ seems a less judicious choice as he neither acts or sings particularly well.
I've seen and enjoyed several productions from David Herskovits' Target Margin Company, and, of course, many from the Vineyard Theater. Both companies deserve praise for joining hands to try something different. I hope that they, as well as Greenberg and Goldwasser, will try again.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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