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A CurtainUp Review
The People Vs. Mona

Your heart is bursting with a secret
You just can't face
You're falling in love with your lawyer
And he's never won a case. . .
—Mona in "Lockdown Blues"
Richard Binder as Jim Summerford & Mariand Torres as Mona
Richard Binder as Jim Summerford & Mariand Torres as Mona (Photo: Randy Morrison)
A large banner above the entrance to the Abingdon Theatre asks audience members (who have to carefully navigate their way past a working pinball machine) to "please excuse my Southern accent," and if you enter this production with this kind of lighthearted mindset you're likely to have a good time at The Frog Pad, the juke joint at the center of Jim Wann and Patricia Miller's The People Vs. Mona. Neither the writers nor the production are new to theater circles: Wann's Pump Boys and Dinettes was a Broadway hit in the 1980s (nominated for a Best Musical Tony), and The People Vs. Mona got its start in California some seven years ago. But at its New York premiere, this self-described "musical mystery comedy" gets to answer the age-old question: can a show with a community theater vibe make it under the bright lights and harsh scrutiny of a sophisticated New York audience?

The plot revolves around the fate of Mona Mae Katt (played by the stunning Mariand Torres), former majorette and current proprietor of The Frog Pad, the "musical heart of Tippo," Georgia, where according to the locals nothing important ever really happens. The fiery Mona is accused of killing her husband C.C. Katt on their wedding night—and since she readily admits she's happy to see him dead, her fate looks rather grim. It doesn't help that she's being defended by local small-time attorney Jim Summerford (played by an earnest Richard Binder), who has never won a case against the ambitious prosecutor and mayoral candidate Mavis Frye (Karen Culp). . .who also happens to be Jim's fiancée. Throw in a host of odd characters, from the local blind musician Blind Willy (energetically rendered by Marcie Henderson) to the off-putting Dr. Bloodweather (Omri Schein in one of his four equally memorable roles) and you have a plot which is, well, ridiculous. But of course the point isn't to get bogged down in analyzing the narrative, but to go along with the ride—and to this end, both direction and performance succeed admirably.

Director Kate Middleton understands that a show this superficial only works if its energy and pace never flags, and accordingly scene transitions, musical numbers and even the intermission proceed at a brisk clip. And the audience itself is included in the performance in more ways than one—beyond the set (designed by Travis McHale), which extends the local watering hole feel on stage (with appropriate frog paraphernalia, of course) into the entire theater with vintage guitars, records and signs on the wall, the actors periodically speak directly to the audience—presumably a pool of potential Tippo tourists. But this interactivity, like the music, never gets obtrusive enough to be annoying. Though clever, there certainly aren't many songs likely to be remembered very long after the conclusion of the performance. Yet, this too doesn't seem to trouble anyone performing it, even the three excellent musicians who serve as musical accompaniment and resident blues band (The McGnats) at The Frog Pad.

Still, charm and cleverness only go so far, and what makes this production work is its performers. The show is exceptionally well cast, its characters so accurate that it's hard to believe that it wasn't written for this particular set of actors. Officer Bell (David Jon Wilson), the musically ambitious parking ticket distributor of Tippo, and Rev. Rosetta Purify (played by Natalie Douglas, who also ably handles the role of Judge Ella Jordan) both deliver convincing performances, and the rest of the cast holds up equally well (though Culp's voice is noticeably weaker than the others, despite her spot-on rendition of Mavis). And in particular, Schein and Torres are excellent, the former for his almost-but-not-quite-over-the-top characters and the latter for her mix of fieriness and fun which is critical to building Mona's appeal. Most important, everyone here seems to genuinely enjoy the show, which goes a long way towards convincing the audience to do the same.

Nothing about this production is stunningly original or particularly memorable, and there are times where the show veers perilously close to amateurish obviousness. But somehow Middleton and her cast never let it cross the line—and the result is a lighthearted and fun musical experience. If you feel like kicking back and relaxing with some Southern hospitality and a lot of laughs, you could do a lot worse than The People Vs. Mona.

by Jim Wann and Patricia Miller
Directed by Kate Middleton
Musical Director: Robert K. Mikulski
Choreographer: Jill Gorrie
Cast: Dan Bailey (Court Reporter/Keys/Nat McGnat), Richard Binder (Jim Summerford), Jason Chimonides (Court Recorder/Guitar/Mike McGnat), Karen Culp (Mavis Frye), Natalie Douglas (Judge Ella Jordan/Rev. Rosetta Purify), Marcie Henderson (Tish Thomas/Blind Willy), Ritt Henn (Clerk/Bass/Mack McGnat), Omri Schein (Dr. Bloodweather/Euple R. Pugh/Patel/Bailiff), Mariand Torres (Ramona Maria "Mona Mae" Katt), David Jon Wilson (Officer Bell)
Scenic & Lighting Designer: Travis McHale
Costume Designer: Elisa R. Richards
Sound Designer: Duane McKee
Assistant Music Director: Ritt Henn
Running time: One hour, forty minutes including fifteen minute intermission
Abingdon Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, (212) 868-4444
Web Site:
From 7/12/07-8/04/07; opening 7/18/07
Tues.-Sat. @ 8:30 p.m., Sun. @ 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $20 for all performances

Reviewed by Gregory Wilson based on July 18 press performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
Tippo-Jim, All
Keep The Frog Pad Alive-Mona, All
Hear Ye/Who Wears The Robe/Glad Glad Glad-Clerk, Judge, Mona, All
Euple R. Pugh-Jim, All
Do You-Clerk, Tish
The Big Meow-Tish, Kittens
Officer Bell's Turn-Officer Bell
Work With Me-Jim, Mona, McGnats
Lockdown Blues-Mona, Jim, Mavis
Does The Prosecution Rest-Judge, Mavis
Riverboat Casino Gambling-Mavis, All
Riverboat Casino Gambling/Reprise-Mavis, Mona, Jim, All
Act Two
Euple R. Pugh/Reprise-All
Legendary Litigator-Pugh, All
Blind Willy-Blind Willy, All
Marching Thru Tippo-Mona, All
You Done Forgot Your Bible-Rev. Purify, Mavis, All
Partner-Mona, Jim
A Real Defense-Jim, All
The Confession-???
Come On Down To Tippo-All
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