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A CurtainUp Review

Wrong Way Up
By Amanda Cooper

I'm so happy to be the wrong way up.

Bare stage, bare-bones costume, three-piece band, small group of actors playing many parts. This is a challenge in theater as there is no flash to cover up, say, script problems or mediocre acting. Theatrical tension can be left gloriously exposed, with onstage energy at its highest, and dramatic moments leaving even the audience raw. Still, I tend to gravitate towards these lower budget evenings, searching out moving, thought provoking moments sans flaunt. Wrong Way Up does have a few moving and funny moments scattered throughout, but ultimately, its earnest energy falls flat, something even souped-up set or glorious costumes wouldn't change.

Our anti-hero Arthur is an upstate teenager with an aversion to authority. His father more or less drinks himself to death, and we watch Arthur become increasingly rebellious. Before finishing out high school he runs off to New York City, and moves his life forward; alternately stumbling and soaring.

Writer Robert Whaley plays Arthur with a large dose of ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), good intentions, and not much acting craft. And unfortunately, Whaley's vocal powers are the weakest of the cast. Co-writer Tony Grimaldi is band guitarist and story narrator/Arthur's Conscience. Grimaldi's smile is both warming and sarcastic, adding an entertaining element to his role. Jeffrey Dean and Rachel S. Stern play all the ensemble parts, with fully realized character portrayals in each role. Stern is especially comfortable and delightful onstage, but they both deserve special mention, as they were the performers with flair.

Though there is a predictable storyline, it took some time to find. The scenes from Arthur's life were not internally connected to each other, so our main man's personality presented itself in jagged pieces, lessening any potential to care about his life's direction.

Wrong Way Up bills itself as a rock musical, both its writers being a part of the New York based band, The Niagaras. With no bass guitar and an acoustic piano, the overall sound was tamer than the expectations affiliated with the term Rock. Perhaps Rock/Pop would be the most appropriate categorization, think Billy Joel with some Elvis and John Mellancamp thrown in for variety. Though there were some catchy chords and lyrics, specifically "His First Days in New York Were Sexy" and "That's Gonna Be My Life/Wrong Way Up," and even a super, poignant ballad, "Hearts Beyond Broken," the guitar riffs and simple rhymes felt more like repetition as opposed to lyrical revelation.

The program reveals that this show has been through six readings and workshops. Developing theater this way can often be benefiicial and crucial to the growth of a show. But as ideas are strained through more and more workshops, you also risk losing the life of the production (The New York Time s had a great article on this very issue last summer), and Wrong Way Up is verifying evidence.

Wrong Way Up
Book, Music and Lyrics by Robert Whaley and Tony Grimaldi
Directed by Andrew Grosso
Musical Direction by Frank Spitznagel
Performed by Jeffrey Dean, Rachel S. Stern, Tony Grimaldi and Robert Whaley
Piano - Frank Spitznagel, Guitar - Tony Grimaldi, Drums - Paul Capuzzo
Production Design by Eliza Brown
Lighting Design by Kryssy Wright
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes
The Belt, 336 West 36th Street (8th/ 9th Aves) 212 352 3101 or
10/20/04 to 12/15/04; opening 10/20/04
Wednesdays, October 20 - December 15 at 8pm, opening night is October 20
Tickets are $15
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on October 20 2004 performance.
Musical Numbers
  • Wrong Way Up Overture
  • War Story
  • Diary of A Thief
  • Hearts Beyond Broken
  • Girls
  • One Cool SOB
  • So, I'm On My Own
  • His First Days in New York Were Sexy
  • War Story, Part 2
  • Being Blessed, Staying Blessed
  • Hearts Beyond Broken Part 2
  • Back on Earth
  • That's Gonna Be My Life/Wrong Way Up
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