The Review: Roundabout Theatre’s Scotland, PA
It’s a delicate dance, this new musical being staged at Roundabout‘s Off-Broadway house, the Laura Pels Theatre. It’s a big bloody splash of a musical based on a 2001 movie, which in turn is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in 1970s suburbia, but to make matters even more daunting, the creators are going for a stoner slacker comedy laced with a violent tragedy all packed inside a musical entitled Scotland, PA. They get lost on their way, maybe because of different theatrical signs pointing in opposite directions. Comedy this way. Tragedy that, but I give them a ton of credit for trying, as its a feat that would strike down even the most adventurous and daring souls on the planet. Macbeth (which I’m excitedly seeing tonight at Classic Stage downtown) is not, in general, wrapped up in comedic psychedelic dreams of a better future, nor is he an unambitious dim dude with little drive working at a burger joint. He’s quite something else; powerful and desirous, needing just a small push towards violence to dive in fully, but within the book by Michael Mitnick (Fly by Night) and music & lyrics by Adam Gwon (Ordinary Days), Scotland, PA tries to deliver the tale under some very different pointed arches, giving us a dude comedy and bloody tragedy on all sharp edged fronts. Not a terrible idea, to find a different twist on a deep frier, but the show never quite finds the right amount of condiments needed to pull this off.
It’s a crash bang beginning, on our way into Scotland, PA, lead by The Stoners against some tree flats. It’s a bloody tragedy, this musical, and not in Shakespearian terms, although, somewhere within “Destiny, Part One“, the first tuneful number of the show, well sung by the stand-ins for the three treacherous witches; Stacey portrayed by Wonu Ogunfowora (Broadway/tour’s Summer), Jessie portrayed by Alysha Umphress (Off-Broadway’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe) and Hector played by Kaleb Wells (Kennedy Center’s The Who’s Tommy) – named for no apparent reason. They sing about one guy who wants to get his shot, but not exactly in the same vein as Shakespeare. They “changed some shit“, and in there is a glimmer of hope and good wishes in their other world creation. It feels like a solid beginning, finding an original vantage point to access the complicated mystical quality by giving us an entry into the farcical world of Scotland, PA. But somehow after that the view gets murky and that’s pretty much where the clever inventions come to a fast food stomach-ache end.
As directed with a energetic but faltering stance by Lonny Price (Broadway’s Lady Day…), Scotland, PA doesn’t know who or what it is, and it also never truly feels real or thoughtful. Structured around an original screenplay by Billy Morrissette, who based his adventure not only on Shakespeare’s Macbeth but also on his first job at a Dairy Queen, Mac, the man without the Macbeth vision for the future, embodied by the well meaning and vocally adept Ryan McCartan (Broadway’s Wicked) is not exactly nudged, but full on pushed hard towards his demise by his girlfriend, Pat, a stand-in for the Lady with the bad dreams and OCD hand-washing, played by the beautifully voiced Taylor Iman Jones (Broadway’s Head Over Heels). They are struggling to survive, living a“Bad Dream” working at a fast food joint, owned by the obnoxious Duncan, played by Jeb Brown (Broadway’s Beautiful). Mac seems content, enjoying the love of his Lady and his easy life, but Pat is worried about the dead end road they are living on, singing about “What We’ve Got” in the negative, rather than seeing the easy positive as Mac does. There’s a lot about Pat I’m not quite sure about, though, like why is the Lady Macbeth character named Pat, for one (not important, I know, but still…), but more importantly, the character puts all her dreams and hopes for a better future on to her boyfriend’s broad shoulders, rather than ever looking inside herself for her own. Not very feminist of her, but I guess, similarly to Shakespearian times, the 1970’s wasn’t all that advanced…or was it? Their communion, “Clairvoyant” is the best thing to hold onto during the whole two act evening, but it still never fully sits well in my stomach that this character would push for these things so hard, but find nothing inside herself other than her predetermined dramatic “Soliloquy” at the end of it all.
The tragedy runs its course, wisely and with wit, deep frying out Duncan on a botched plan that leaves Mac and Pat running the burger show up to franchise heaven, turning his ideas that were once ignored into MacBeth gold. The other characters living alongside at the burger joint seem to find a better structure to inhabit. Mac’s best buddy, the silly slacker Banko, played to perfection by the wonderfully engaging Jay Armstrong Johnson (Encores’ A Chorus Line) incorporates just the right balance of humor and empathy into his formulation, especially with his hilarious show stopper “Kick-Ass Party“. He finds a way to be both ridiculously funny and emotionally present, so much so that we feel for him more than anyone as he non-stop chatters away in the forest with his buddy Mac. Mrs. Lenox, a throwaway part played by the delicious Lacretta (off-Broadway’s Avenue Q), and all those roles portrayed by David Rossmer (Broadway’s Titanic) deliver the meal happily and readily. But there, hidden away inside the bratty young Malcolm, the son of Duncan, portrayed by the appealing newcomer Will Meyers (NYMF’s Generation Me) is a delicious Chicken MacNugget of a song, “Why I Love Football“, that even when sung with the wobbling sweet voice of Meyers, brings the house down in unexpected joy. It’s surprising and clear, and maybe needs a better show to wrap its big strong arms around this wonderful cute creation of a football player.
These are the moments that find the energy and the fun, even when squished down by the awkward choreography of Josh Rhodes (Broadway’s Bright Star). The music direction by Vadim Feichtner (Broadway’s Falsettos), with orchestrations by Frank Galgano & Matt Castle (Roundabout/Fiasco’s Into the Woods) find the right tones for 1970s fun, particularly when the delightfully odd “Peg McDuff is on The Case” joins in. Embodied by the wonderfully droll “Columbo’s got nothing on me” Megan Lawrence (Broadway’s Holiday Inn) as Detective McDuff, the song and the character just never lets go until it feels just right. There is also goodness and fulfillment in one or two of the other burger songs, but the balancing of genres and the all smiles vantage point doesn’t make this a filling happy meal all around.
In the musical Scotland, PA, revenge is just a side dish deep fried and crunchy. The dark new musical comedy never really finds a way to completely cook up a super sized plan to take on Shakespearian tragedy and international fast food conglomerate power. Mac’s quick move from delightful doofus to driving ambition never feels locked, stocked, and ready to fire, even as the bodies fall. Played out on a garish franchised set designed by Anna Louizos (Broadway’s School of Rock), with standardized paper crowned costuming by Tracy Christensen (Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard), clear-edged lighting by Jeanette Yew (Daryl Roth’s Gloria: A Life), and a solid sound design by Jon Weston (Broadway’s She Loves Me), the Roundabout has fully embraced the locational structure of the kingdon, thinking they are being very clever and hilarious when it isn’t supersized. The need for “More” cause “Everybody’s Hungry” never really finds it’s way to “Heaven“. The taste of the American fast food dream feels as unsettling as buying a healthy salad at a Burger King.