The Review: Neurosis and R.R.R.E.D. – two new musicals in rep at the DR2 Theatre, Union Square
There is a whole lotta head trippin’ musical silliness being diagnosed over in Union Square right next door to where Neil Patrick Harris brought us In & Of Itself, a show I never got around to seeing sadly, and an Argentinian theatrical troupe soared with the magnificiently outrageous and unforgetable De La Guarda and Fuerza Bruta. On a much smaller scale, there is a sweet little theatre by the name of DR2, a theatre I have never been inside, nor did I even know such a thing existed. But nestled inside that sweet modern theatrical space, Neurosis The Musical and R.R.R.E.D. The Musical have banded together and taken over, filling the 99-seat theatre with two new musicals in repertory that are both psychologically fun and fairly ridiculous. Do not go in expecting anything remotely deep or emotionally compelling, to be frank, because both are light-hearted affairs that never rise to the feeling of essential, but the talented actors all bring their big Broadway voices to the stage determined with wide grinning appeal to give us an entertaining, albeit slight, evening of jokie love, fear, and psychological neurosis.
With both new musicals directed by Andy Sandberg (Acorn Theatre’s Straight), choreographed by Shea Sullivan (ATC’s Polkadots: the Cool Kids Musical), and designed by the same creatives: scenic designer Charlie Corcoran (Irish Rep’s The Seafarer), costumes by Michael McDonald (59E59’s Jericho), lighting by Jake DeGrott (Roundabout’s The Robber Bridegroom), and sound design by David Sanderson, they feel very much like a cabaret show run wild on to the same theatrical stage. Guided by the same hands, ears, and eyes, the shows both attack the therapy-laden couch dynamics with a carefree ease and playful theatrics. It’s all in good fun with overly schicky wide smiles and big winks to the audience. Cutsie smart and festive, both feel like a summer cocktail that’s easy to consume and with little bite. That being said, they are both a bit overly caffinated and vaudevillian in nature, with Neurosis The Musical taking its sweet and awkward time with its overly convoluted psychology stuffed into a two act stage musical structure that it doesn’t quite belong in, and R.R.R.E.D. The Musical finding its own brand of schizophrenic psychological disorder lite to play with for a overly long 90 minutes. Maybe both are in need of some therapuetic structure, like the standard and professional back to back individual 50 minute sessions that psychoanalysis professes. That might make the whole thing tolerable and ultimately more satisfying.
With a light-hearted but unsurprisingly sitcom-like book by Allan Rice (‘The New Adventures of Old Christine‘), catchy music by Ben Green (off-Broadway’s Heathers: The Musical), and enjoyable but obvious lyrics by Greg Edwards (off-Broadway’s Application Pending) that highlight every stereotype you can imagine, Neurosis The Musical drops us into the cardboard cutout world of Frank, played by the engaging Kevin Zak (R.R.R.E.D., Clinton the Musical). Standing by his side like a non-sexual needy boyfriend, ‘Neurosis’, personified by the energetic and electric Brennan Coldwell (Davenport Theatre’s Money Talks) is Frank’s own particular brand of guidance and support. They seem a good solid pair, with Coldwell’s scared psychosis holding the “Incredible Frank” together fairly well, protecting him as he battles it out with his egotistical boss, the ‘Amazing Larry’ played comically by Ian Michael Stuart (Broadway’s Escape to Margaritaville), while also attempting to hold strong against his worried but caring Jewish parents, played pretty much as one would expect by the enjoyable Susan J. Jacks (Forbidden Broadway) and Joel Blum (off-Broadway’s Kid Victory). Not surprisingly, Coldwell steals the neurotic thunder with his big put-on-a-show persona, high kicking and flashing his high wattage smile at every moment he can. He zings out pretty much all the best lines existing in the protected here and there, living and breathing for Frank, as only one’s ‘Neurosis’ can. The setups and songs are playful, humorous, and almost witty enough to draw us in, with music director David Aaron Brown (Berkeley Rep’s Monsoon Wedding) doing a great job enlargening the sound as he conducts and plays keyboard alongside three other talented musicians (Bass: Kris Rogers; Drums: Terrence Bates; Reeds: Zach Larimer), but the lasting effect of Neurosis is superficial, requiring a bit more treatment to become something more sustainable.
Naturally, things start to get complicated when a career-minded pretty blond woman, Abby, played by the solid and spunky Jennifer Blood (Broadway’s Matilda) shows up with her tag-along sidekick, the sexy and provocative ‘Neurosalina’, slyly portrayed by Morgan Weed (Broadway’s American Psycho). Awkward sparks fly, naturally, between Frank and Abby, as both attempt to “Let Go” of their fears, and attempt to become free enough to call each other “Boyfriend-Girlfriend“. It’s all a bit too cute and paced out sometimes, with the borrowed “Chicago” song, “Meet-The-Parents Tango” failing to be as smart as it wants or needs to be. Luckily, we are given the wise-cracking Samantha, played with a big-voiced charm by Lacretta (Broadway’s Disaster!) as a sassy psychotherapist with some pretty non-conventional techniques to balance the personas on stage with her. I’d never refer her one patient, professionally speaking, but she does bring a refreshing perspective and a confidence to the piece that is much needed. She’s definitely not used near enough to make a huge impact, as numerous back stories and some forgettable moments make it hard for Samantha to “Rock Your Neurosis” long or intrinsically enough to be curative, but you most certainly will leave DR2 Theatre with a smile.
R.R.R.E.D. The Musical is a different kind of beast all together, even as it is cut from the same musical theatre cloth (and set design). With music and lyrics by its lead actress, Katie Thompson, who also is credited with the book alongside Adam Jackman and Patrick Livingston, the musical is akin to a smart and funny cabaret show with a strong theme and back story. Too big for just an act, but not big enough for a full staging, the opening scene is oddly off-putting and nonsensical, but quicklyR.R.R.E.D. recovers and introduces us to the hosts of tonight’s movement; Victoria, the strong minded and forceful leader, played by the wildly engaged Thompson (The Public’s Giant), and her partner, no sorry I meant to say, ‘assistant’ GJ, played showbiz big by the energetic Matt Loehr (Broadway’s The Book of Mormon). They both give it a little extra in everything they do, possibly a bit too much, if you ask me, but their singing is strong and comical throughout and their passion pure.
The two are here, you see, braving the dangerous streets, in order to unite in this secret meeting room and present their high-energy manifesto to all us red heads of the world hiding under wigs in the audience. This is all so we may fight back against oppression and the possible upcoming extinction, or so their statistics say. The meeting is brought to order, with musical accompaniment by keyboard player and musical director, Rodney Bush (American Idiot), and a few surprise speakers/singers, such as the eager Stephanie Hicks, played to the max by the excitable and delicious Marissa Rosen (off-Broadway’s The Marvelous Wonderettes) who gives us her touching big-voiced testimonial that might just be the highlight of the show. There is also the more deeply complex Greg, no, sorry, Craig (did I get that right?), played adorably by the double-dutied Kevin Zak (Neurosis, Goodspeed’s The Little Mermaid), an actor that forces me to say, “I like you, I think you’re swell“. The red haired Wendy’s girl, Victoria, hilariously throughout in her intensity, seems to be coming a bit unhinged as the procedures continue forward,. With every beat and exaggeration, Victoria exhibits more and more paranoia, making the more star-struck and showy GJ nervous and uncomfortable. The red-haired tension mounts onstage, with the final crack revealing itself when that last surprise guest speaker sings the final last straw in the red haired camel’s back.
It’s all pretty ridiculous with a strong dose of good fun, and although the musical starts to feel too stretched out and cumbersome, even in its one act structure, R.R.R.E.D. The Musical, just like Neurosis The Musical delivers an enjoyable and easy night of silliness and laughs. Both are in need of the exuberance of the confident therapist Samantha with that big smile and strong voice, because only a wildly inappropriate psychotherapist can sit these two heady musicals down for a char, and talk them into a bit more structure and focus so they both can rise up and be the best that they can be. Both don’t have that much further to go, needing a good editing down to a more sustainable and realistic 60 to 90 minutes max. Maybe with some good strong work by Samantha, they could even melt down together into a festive show night of two one-act musicals,. That could be fun, just as long as they each don’t take themselves all that seriously, standing up to their meddling parents, domineering bosses, big-voiced step-daughter haters, and pesky voices inside their heads. You don’t have to rid yourselves of the most sexy and appealing aspects of yourselves, (ie. Coldwell and Weed) to have a good time, and on that note, blonds don’t necessarily always have more fun, Stephanie, but you do have to look out for that duplicitous and devious tech guy and the evil stepmother. She’s the surprise that those fairy tales have all warned us about, but don’t worry, that’s a different story all together.