Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies is neither new nor especially comedic.
It is certainly not fabulous.
Time Out sums the plot well: “Two drag queens on a cruise ship get into Some Like It Hot water.” That was the target, but Dan Derby’s book and lyrics miss on most counts.
The first act is interminable, as the hardworking and relentlessly cheerful cast offers up rafts of extraneous exposition. We get it–they’re gay men pretending to be women chased by villains.
As lights flickered indicating the second act was beginning, I asked my guest: “Ready for another hour of that?” Truly stricken, she said: “Was that only an hour?” I was amazed to see almost all of the audience came back — especially since there is a full bar in the lobby.
The second act moved faster, as the thin conceits of the plot reach their inevitable resolutions. The cast of mostly young, energetic performers, some of whom tap dance with distinction, is, well, sweet. You want them to be in a better show. Perhaps a kind of Stockholm syndrome kicks in when the audience knows the show is dreck but feels an allegiance of sorts for the performers–a sort of “we’re- all-in-this-together” sensibility?
Nick Morrett (Laura Lee Handle) soldiers on, enlivening a pretty awful script with his/her comedic timing. Morrett nearly makes a silk purse of a sow’s ear. His Laura Lee conjures that Bette Midleresque “isn’t-this-fun” vibe.
Jane Aquilina (Silvia Smothers) shoulders the role of buffoon. Sylvia is the ship’s activities director. She is grossly fat and tricked out to look as unattractive as possible in a world of preening queens. She is drawn as bovine and mean, the butt of their jokes and barbs and, of course, she is the show’s only lesbian. Aquilina delivers a show-stopping number in this show that, admittedly, never gets started.
I know this is intended as musical comedy. But is it axiomatic that a production aimed at a gay male audience rely on misogyny as a baseline tenet? It’s not just anti-lesbian, Fabulous is anti-woman. For example, Silvia keeps her flunky, “Stewey” (Owen Wingo) in check by threatening to return him to his old job: assisting Dr. Brownbush, a gynecologist. Really?
Mary Lauren (choreographer) and director Rick Hamilton should take a bow for efficiently moving the 12 member cast around a very limited space. Music director Michael Rheault kept the room lively though the music was distinctly derivative.
The performance space, it turns out, is a metaphor for the show. The stage is quite broad–but remarkably shallow.
Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies – Directed by Rick Hamilton. Book and lyrics by Dan Derby. Music by Michael Rheault.
WITH: Nick Morrett (Laura Lee Handle), Josh Kenney (Jane Mann), Adam Kemmerer (Rock), Jane Aquilina (Sylvia Smothers), Owen Wingo (Stewey), Cameron Lucas (Sir Alfred Dooalot), Natalie DePuy (Betty Babcock), Bryan Seastrom (Harry Babcock), AJ Hunsucker, DaWoyne Alexander Hill, PJ Palmer and Aaron VanderYacht (Boys 1,2,3,4).
It is choreographed by Mary Lauren, produced by Roy Nevans, John Lant, and Tamra Pica. David Goldstein did the lighting, Kathleen Moriarty the sets. Maya Graffagna handled costumes and Sang Oh the props. Production stage manager is Brian-Paul Mendoza.
Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies is at the Times Square Arts Center, 300 West 43rd Street, through September 29th. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including a 15 minute intermission.