Review by Brittany Crowell
When Broadway shut its doors due to the coronavirus, and the smaller theaters trickled closed thereafter, I was excited to see artists turning to viral means and to discover what would come of this alternate-form theater. Composer Jared Chance Taylor and writer Sarah Luery shifted from musical to podcast with their April 15 release of MONOTONY: a musical that can be experienced at work, at home, or anywhere (as long as you have a device and a means to listen).
When this invite to review came into my inbox, I thought that there could be nothing better to fill the current monotony of self-quarantine than to experience new work. And yet, MONOTONY does little to combat the dull humdrum of living in the social isolation of today. Rather than adding insight and inspiration to help one overcome the monotony, it settles into tried story tropes and far too easy solutions for its characters’ journeys.
The story centers around Herbert Handler III (voiced by Aiden Bettencourt), a sad and lonely accountant who keeps his accounting job only to live out his deceased father’s dreams, Herbert’s friend Marnee (voiced by Kelsey Anne Sutton) is the office manager and a recent divorcee struggling to find her footing and move on, and Theodore McGiver (Jon Gibson), the hunky son of their boss, is a comic book writer who is bad at deadlines and whose father disapproves of his dreams.
We get to hear a lot from our heroes over the three-and-a-half-hour podcast. The story unfolds slowly, at points feeling stagnant and stuck in self-indulgent explorations of unhappiness and boredom. Kitschy lyrics miss the mark, putting their focus on rhyme over heart, and cheekiness over sensitivity and honesty. Then, when the characters finally make a discovery and experience a shift in their way of thinking and way of life, it comes far too easy, making me question – is this really what these three plus have been leading to?
Unfortunately, the piece also lacks the charm and the humor it may have been granted, if it were to be experienced live onstage. During one song the accountants refer to the “accountant’s dance” and then music breaks imply that there are lines of accountant chorus boys rolling across the stage in swivel chairs or tapping on top of wooden desks. Not seeing this performed live feels more like missing out than an opportunity for the imagination, as we’re not given enough to fully enter the dreamscape of what may be happening in this moment.
While the vocal performers try their best to convey the character’s emotional journey, the result is over-wrought and over-done, not translating well to a voice-over style, but coming off as pandering more than sentimental.
Will Monotony help you get out of the current dreariness of being stuck at home? Not really. If you’re finding yourself with a lack of content to consume in this moment, you can check it out. But it shouldn’t make top of the list.
by Jared Chance Taylor (music) Sarah Luery (book and lyrics)
WITH Aiden Bettencourt (Herbert Handler III), Jon Gibson (Theodore McGiver), Kelsey Anne Sutton (Marnee McDougal), Tod Macofsky (Mr. McGiver), Alixandree Antoine (Ms. McDougal and Kyle), Ahamed Weinberg (Herbert Handler Sr. and Bode), David Castillo (Frank Collins and Trey); Pat Regan (Deacon), Evan Allgood (Thomas), and Karen Trachtenberg (Lucinda).