Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion The Musical &
The Legend of Georgia McBride

5th Avenue Theatre/ACT Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes


Hannah Schuerman
Photo by Mark Kitaoka
Imitation may well be the sincerest form of flattery, but neither Romy and Michele's High School Reunion The Musical at 5th Avenue nor The Legend of Georgia McBride at ACT Theatre are particularly inspired imitations of either of the films they are adapted (Romy) or liberally borrowed from (Georgia). Both have outstanding elements but neither has a drop of originality in their writing.

The lesser of the two, as it cautiously wends its way to the broken promise land of old Broadway, is a new musical, seemingly written on Post-It Notes: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion The Musical , based on a movie rom-com of the same title that Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino won raves for back in 1997. The musical, adapted reverentially (from what I hear, as I never saw it) by its screenwriter Robin Schiff for the stage, is overly sugary and leans on easy laughs at the expense of real heart and pathos for its principal characters. The title tells all. A pair of losers, back in their day and now, wreak havoc trying to impress their mean girl ex-classmates, but eventually win over their classmates by the time their 10th reunion groans to a halt. Another problems is that one should never force or encourage two obviously talented unknowns (Cortney Wolfson in the Romy/Kudrow role and Stephanie Renee Wall as Michele/Sorvino) to ape their widescreen models. Suggest? Sure, why not? (e.g. Marisa Jaret Winokur was uniquely her own Tracy in Hairspray). This points to lazy direction on the part of the musical's novice director Kristin Hanggi, who does an adequate but uninspired job in other departments.

My third and major criticism is that the weak-sister musical score, by the equally (and obviously) novice Gwendolyn Sanford and Brandon Jay, is one of the most unmemorable scores in an un-remarkable (prior to this past season Broadway) decade and ¾ era. The muzaky tunes and rarely original, strained and unfunny lyrics make one wonder if the producers of the show even auditioned any other songwriting teams?

Winning performances by supporting characters help, such as gawky but good-hearted photographer Toby (Hannah Schuerman) and sulky loner Heather Mooney (Jordan Kai Burnett). Burnett kind of walks away with the show, in tandem with Michael Thomas Grant in a "you're gonna hear from me" turn as ex-dud turned stud Sandy Frink, while Tess Soltau gives a master class in musical comedy bitchdom. On the tech side, only Amy Clark's pitch perfect, candyland bright costumes are really worth noting.

This one seems to have run out of gas before getting near Broadway, unless a wholesale reset with a new director, leading ladies, and above all tunestack is ordered stat. Comparisons here may be odious, but the 5th has hosted a number of pre-Broadway tryouts in the past 15 or so years, so it makes sense to say if you loved the near-perfection of Hairspray or even kind of loved The Wedding Singer you may want to send your regrets on missing Romy and Michele's High School Reunion The Musical, at the 5th Avenue Theatre through July 2nd, 2017, at 1308 5th Ave, Seattle. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.


Timothy McCuen Piggee and Adam Standley
Photo by Chris Bennion
A few blocks away from the 5th, at ACT Theatre at 7th and Union, struts the enjoyable and sometimes stirring comedy/farce with music The Legend of Georgia McBride. Matthew Lopez's play is original, but borrows liberally from the film classic Tootsie and similar farces such as Victor/Victoria, Connie and Carla and even Some Like It Hot. However, Lopez gives his piece a zest in stealing from the best, while still creating his own kingdom of the queens.

The plot in Cliffs Notes form: A waning Elvis imitator named Casey (the sensational Adam Standley) is being recruited to dump the king to be a queen in one Miss Tracy's (Timothy McCuen Piggee who has never glittered with greater heart or sashayed with so much sass) drag show. After Rexy, another "girl" in the show (talented Charles Smith giving shade that recalls Delta Burke's Suzanne in all her glory), goes down in a drunken stupor, ne'er do well nightclub owner Jeff Steitzer (a shady and self-serving scoundrel enacted by Seattle comic go-to-guy Jeff Steitzer) presses Casey into throwing a wig, skirt and heels on. Soon enough, the fluke of the moment becomes a whole new world and wardrobe for Casey, who thinks he's gonna like it there, short of exposing his very pregnant wife Jo (captivating newcomer Nastacia Guimont) to his secret-identity. Many live and hip synched numbers later, a repentant and rehabbed Rexy returns to try to reclaim her old gig and gives Casey, dubbed Georgia McBride, a come to Jesus about what career drag queens must endure.

The ultimate denouement may be easy to call, as a shift to melodrama in this show would have been as bad a call as casting Lucy in the film of Mame was. Astute and flair-focused director David Bennett and cagey choreographer Jessica Low create a show that can't help but stop the music at times, to allow their actors to turn stereotypes into flesh and blood beings. Piggee, who mostly sings live, is a RuPaul with major vocal abilities and compassion. Eye popping costumes and wigs by Pete Rush and Dennis Milam Bensie complete the picture, and the in-the-round Allen Theatre space is perfectly utilized by scenic designer Matt Smucker, who must have done his drag club bar research in person to catch the reality of such an establishment to such a degree of accuracy. All other tech elements are top drawer, and Kevin Heard's thumpin' and bumpin' sound design gets a "sashay you stay" from my corner of the bar.

The Legend of Georgia McBride, through July 2nd, 2017, at ACT, 700 Union Street, Seattle. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.


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