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A CurtainUp Review
Scotland, PA


— Hector

— Lyric from "Destiny" the song setting the scene for SCotland, PA.
Taylor Iman Jones and Ryan McCartan
Macbeth purists beware: ScotlanD, PA is not the Scottish play as Shakespeare wrote it. Having the three witches morph into a trio of singing stoners, or the kingdom Macbeth and his Lady yearn to rule be a fast food joint, is the latest of many and often extreme new takes on one of his plays.

As Shakespeare surely didn't foresee that even his bloodiest play could be turned into a comedy, neither did Billy Morisette and Christopher Walken, who wrote the 2001 film parody, envision it to be further transformed; this time as the musical that just opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre, with a book by Michael Mitnick, and a score by Adam Gwon, whose Ordinary Days premiered at the Roundabout's black box theater a decade ago.

Bard-inspired musicals have worked best when based on the so-called problem plays like Measure for Measure or popular comedies like Twelfth Night — notably the York Theater Company's dlightfulDesperate Measures and the Prospect Theater's lovely Ilyria. Sine there's no rule written in cement that artists must draw on Shakespeare's lighter fare when creating a musical, Scotland, PA, uses the very dark Macbeth to establish the unique sway and swagger of a retooled work. And while it is clever, it takes its time to find its artistic footing.

If you know your Shakespeare, you'll recognize the links to the source play in this brief summary of Mitnick's premise which, like the source film is s et in a sleepy hamlet in Pennsylvania in the fall of 1975. A burger-joint manager (Ryan McCartan) and his wife Pat (Taylor Iman Jones) quietly scheme together to rob their loathsome restaurant owner Duncan (Jeb Brown. When their robbery goes awry, however, and Duncan accidentally falls head first into the Fry-O-later and dies, they try to frame a homeless guy named Andy. Worse, they begin to suspect that their friend Banko (Jay Armstrong Johnson) knows their entanglement In Duncan's death.

The protagonist Mac doesn't hold a candle to the ambition obseessed character created by the imagination of a poet. Mitnick's Mac does cook up a master plan for his fast-food restaurant, replete with a drive-thru window and a diversified menu that is lip-smacking good. But he never has him confronted by his own conscience, and wrestle with his better angel who whispers that he has strayed from the path of morality. The focus is firmly on the broad humor, at least in the first act. And yet, while Scotland, PA's dramatis personae lack the deep characterization of Shakespeare's original, the show l does sustain itself with its cleverness. Indeed Mac's wife Pat (Taylor Iman Jones) bears a clear resemblance to Lady Macbeth, first overshadowing her husband with her own ambition and then inciting him to murder Duncan. If she lacks the sublimeness of Shakespeare's Queen, she compensates with true American spunk. In fact, each character in Scotland, PA has, for better or worse, an unmistakable American thumbprint.

The actors do manage to levitate the musical, french fries and all. Ryan McCartan, playing the anti-hero Mac, makes the most of his character who has colossal culinary ambitions and lives by the global philosophy: "There's a whole world to be fed." What's more, his musical chops are sturdy, even though some of the numbers he sings aren't equally meaty.

Taylor Iman Jones, as Mac's partner-in-crime Pat, suitably exhibits nerves of steel in Act 1, which predictably melt down in Act 2. This leads to her grisly suicide via a meat cleaver (She savagely chops off her "burned" hand, which reminds her of her entanglement in Duncan's "Fry-o-later" death). Happily, her pipes are also strong.

Megan Lawrence, as the Harrisburgh Police detective Peg MacDuff, nails her part. She has the derring-do quality of TV serial's super-cool detective and the moral rectitude of Shakespeare's MacDuff.

Of course, a musical largely depends on its music to fly. And Adam Gwon's songs, like the book, don't make for an all-around sizzling show. The Prologue's "Destiny: Part One," quoted above is one of the few songs that peppers in Shakespeare's antithetical language of "fair and foul" and similar fol-de-rol. And there are a couple of standout numbers: The audience favorite "Why I Love Football," sung by Duncan's gay son Malcolm (Will Meyers) . . . and "Peg MacDuff is on the Case," is just right for Lawrence's character, who not-so-humbly boasts that "I was like Nancy Drew in diapers."

The creative team mostly succeeds. Anna Louizos' set design is an intentional mix of the sylvan and tacky, eerily lit by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. Josh Rhodes choreography is energetic , if not always electrifying. Tracey Christensen's costumes realistically outfit each cast member. And Frank Galgano's and Matt Castle's orchestrations amplify the Band's syncopated efforts on the guitars and keyboards.

Scotland, PA is all very irreverent, casual, and American — but is there enough Shakespeare to go along with its ambience? After all, the language has almost entirely gone missing here, so that the show counts on the spirit of the original to live in this equal-opportunity approach to Shakespeare. Still the Barddoesn't belong to any single class, race, creed, or geographical locale. He belongs to anybody with the imagination to transplant his tales to fresh new places. And, thanks to the musical's creative team that now includes the little town of Scotland, PA.

Post Script by Elyse Sommer
While the film that has now landed at the Laura Pells stage singing and dancing, It wasn't received with universal enthusiasm . Which is also the case for Scotland, PA the musical. I admit that I wasn't bowled over by it, and neither was the companion with whom I saw it . And so, that "cult" label applies to a smallish group broad humor more than Shakespeare lovers.

As to how much of the film has been translated for the current stage version, the play actually follows the film's plot pretty closely. Obviously this version needed a cast with musical theater credentials. It also required a gender shift for the character who makes sure that the Macbeths get their comeppance. Good as Megan Lawrence is, those movie cutists will miss Christopher Walken's McDuff.

As was the case, with the film, audiences at the Laura Pels not familiar with Macbeth will find the comings and goings of these characters a bit strange without a synopsis of the source play. And yet, it's those unfamiliar Shakespeare's version who are most likely to buy into this concept.

Shakespeare buffs are likelely to wish for another Kiss Me Kate, the Shakespeare musical that's a true classic on all counts, or else a non-musical Macbeth more true to the Bard's poetry and seriousness. Fortunately that wish can come true right now as the Classic Stage downtown is indeed mounting a new production. Watch for Deirdre's review of that one!

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Scotland, PA
Book by Michael Mitnick
Music & Lyrics by Adam Gwon
Directed by Lonny Price
Music Director:Vadim Feichtner
Choreographed by Josh Rhodes
Based on 1970s movie written by Billy Morrissette with Christopher Walken
CAST (in order of appearancr)
Stoners:Alysha Umphress (Jessie), Wonu Ogunfowora (Stacey, Kaleb Wells (Hector).
The People: Ryan McCartan (Mac), Jeb Brown (Duncan. also Ray), Taylor Iman Jones (Pat),Jay Armstrong Johnson (Banko), Will Meyers (Malcolm, also Bert), Lacretta (Mrs. Lenox), Wonu Ogunfowora (Brenda), David Rossner (Andy, also Gary), Megan Lawrence (Peg McDuff)
Scenic designer Anna Louizos
Costume designer:a Tracy Christensen
Lighting designer :Jeanette Yew
Sound designer :Jon Weston
Orchestrators Frank Galgano and Matt Castle
Hair, Wigs, Makeup:
Jay Jared Jonas
Fight Director: Thomas Schall

Stage Manager: Timothy R. Semon
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission Roundabout Laura Pels 111 West 46th Street
From 9/1/19; opening 10/23/19; closing 12/08/19.

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