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A CurtainUp Review
The Sphinx Winx

I have it on good authority that things didn't go down quite the way we think they did. We recently discovered a manuscript that was thought lost to the ages. It's the journal of Cleopatra's chief advisor and Soothsayer!— Soothsay
Erika Amato & Bruce Sabath
(Photo: Peter James Zielinski)
The Sphinx Winx, a new musical comedy with book and lyrics by Philip Capice, Anne Hitchner, Kenneth Hitchner, Jr. and Robert Keuch, and music by Kenneth Hitchner, Jr., has, according to director Matthew Hamel, "the charm of older musical theatre comedy, where simple fun and entertainment were the goal". In fact, Hamel adds that it was conceived in 1952, at which time it was performed by 24 actors and had a running time of 3 hours.

Although the scope of the 2011 version has been considerably reduced (there is a cast of 6, and the running time is 90 minutes), Hamel notes that "the authors have managed to keep that spirit from the original piece". And that spirit is a "reflection of the burlesque era."

Hamel is certainly correct. The Sphinx Winx is a reinterpretation of the affair between Marc Antony and Cleopatra, as celebrated in William Shakespeare's tragedy. Only in this version, Caesar (Bruce Sabath) is still alive, governor of Egypt and husband to Cleopatra (Erika Amato), and Antony (Bret Shufard) does not fall in love with Cleopatra but her maid, Crecia (Rebecca Riker). Cleopatra's jealousy is only matched by that of Caesar's daughter, the wannabe songstress Lunia (Beth Cheryl Tarnow).

What's more Antony has not been sent to conquer Egypt, but to find out what Caesar has been doing with all the missing revenue that has not made its way to Rome, and the blind Soothsayer (Ryan Williams) can't get his messages straight.

This definitely is the stuff of burlesque. While the musical The Sphinx Winx most closely resembles is, in fact, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but with a big difference. That show, inspired by the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, has a plot overflowing with wit and a score rich with unforgettable hits.

Everyone involved with The Sphinx Winx seems to be trying very hard. The songs are insistently Broadway-type tunes, and there are quite a few of them in just 90 minutes. The actors strain to make every joke work. Unfortunately, many of the jokes seem to be pulled in from nowhere and everywhere: references to Gone With the Wind, Sara Palin, Watergate, West Side Story, Britney Spears, Freud, etc. abound.

Sabath seems to succeed most effortlessly in his portrayal of the ineffectual Caesar. But Amato and Shuford don't have much chemistry, especially, for a burlesque.

Robert Andrew Kovach has created a comical and visually pleasing winking sphinx for the set. This cartoon-like set works so well, it's easy to forget that it's somewhat low budget and makeshift. But Jeffrey Lodin on keyboard and Cory Daniels on drums cannot substitute for a fuller orchestration, which the score desperately needs.

The Sphinx Winx has some engaging moments of pure silliness, mostly eked out by Amato and Sabath. But, while the sphinx is winking, many people may be dozing.

The Sphinx Winx
Book & Lyrics by Philip Capice, Anne Hitchner, and Robert Keuch
Music by Kenneth Hitchner Jr.
Directed by Matthew Hamel
Musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin
Orchestrations are by Doug Katsaros, with arrangements by Jeffrey Lodin
Cast: Bruce Sabath ((Julius Caesar/Doctor), Bret Shuford (Marc Antony, Courier/Doctor), Erika Amato (Cleopatra), Rebecca Riker (Crecia/Enobarbus), Beth Cheryl Tarnow (Lurna/Laurel/Judge) and Ryan Williams (Soothsayer/Marius/Emptius/Etc.)
Scenic Design: Robert Kovach
Sound Design: David Lawson
Lighting Design: Annmarie Duggan
Costume Design: Gail Baldoni
Choreography: Tara Jeanne Vallee
Running Time: 90 minutes
Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, 212/239-6200
From 5/03/11; opening 5/18/11; closing 7/24/11
Closing early-- 6/19/11 Tuesdays at 7:00pm; Wednesdays - Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 2:00pm & 8:00pm, and Sundays at 3:00pm
Tickets are $56.25, $80
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 17, 2011

Musical Numbers
Queen of Today
Always Get It Right
Count the Ways
Hail to Thee
Did You Ever
Must Be Falling in Love
Farewell Ladies
One of These Days
Act Yourself
I Sail For Home
Always Get It Right (reprise)
There's Gonna Be a Trial
Goodbye Julius
Goodbye Julius (reprise)
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