The In-Person Experience: Off-Broadway’s A Commerical Jingle for Regina Comet
On the cover of the Playbill for A Commerical Jingle for Regina Comet, the title is followed by “A New Musical Hit in the Making.” I’d say most of that is fairly accurate. It is definitely “in the making“, but in all honesty, the 80-minute musical needs to be beefed up, elevated, and edited to achieve that “Hit” status it is going for. This is a slight musical; enjoyable and sometimes funny, but in order to rise up, this show needs a fix, a nip, a tuck, and a few more good songs. The musical starts off pretty strong, with a very catchy “One Hit Song” that sambas us into the story, but unfortunately, as it nears the end of its short one-act running time, the songs weaken significantly, with the final number zeroing in on the word ‘fine’, which is not how a musical should close.
But high praise to the vocal chops of its star, Bryonha Marie Parham (Broadway’s Prince of Broadway; After Midnight), who delivers solidly and vocally on the Diva promise, giving us a funny, smart, but over-the-top capsizing star performer who is still desperately in need to be trending again, packaged well with a voice that can’t be stopped. She hits all the right marks in her spot-on portrait, as well as all the notes written for this show by the team of Alex Wyse (MCC’s Ride the Cyclone) and Ben Fankhauser (Broadway’s Newsies), who also play the two other main parts in the show, that of two aspiring jingle writers strongly in need of a hit.
Directed with a catchy eye by Marshall Pailet (Off-Broadway”s Who’s Your Baghdaddy, or How I Started the Iraq War), Regina Comet, “The Girl Beneath the Lasers,” has her eye laser-focused on finding a new hit to sing, and a jingle for her new fragrance, ‘Relevant’. She’s desperate to be just that, as she, nervously, talks about an upcoming tour that just isn’t selling. She hires these two young quirky writers, named Man 2 (Fankhauser) and Other Man (Wyse) – a cute idea for character names that don’t have much of a payoff – to write that jingle that will jangle her back to the top. That’s the premise of A Commerical Jingle for Regina Comet, along with a weird little infatuation love/friend triangle that never really connects, and although it’s as light as a feather boa, the flavors presented are generally jubilant and wacky enough to be borscht-belt funny at times. Parham nails the self-absorbed singer, giving her a comic zest as she parody plays with the music industry as well as the cult of celebrity, but the other two sort of get left in her glitter stardust.
The two writers try to chime in enthusiastically, playing basically a version of themselves as jingle writers who are also in need. Unfortunately for Commerical Jingle…, that casting choice is less successful. They definitely are earnest and eager to please, both Regina Comet and the audience at the DR2 Theatre downtown in Union Square, rolling around the stage with glee trying hard to be both funny and sincere. But they can’t quite deliver to the same degree as Parham. Maybe because they are basically playing versions of themselves that they didn’t find the undercurrent to make it real. But I couldn’t help thinking during the show, as they struggle to sing their own songs with style and power – and this might also have to do with the fact that I just saw, for the second time, the revival of Little Shop of Horrors with the magnificent Jeremy Jorden playing a dork (I also saw the incredible Jonathan Groff in the part when it first opened) – that two strong leads, like Jorden and Groff, might have been able to strengthen the show’s core structure, and give it something strong to sing around.
The musical structure itself is a gallant attempt for satire and silliness. Staged economically with fun inserts and cutouts by scenic designer Wilson Chin (Broadway’s Pass Over), with help from lighting designer Aja M. Jackson (Lyric Stage’s Breath and Imagination) and sound designer Twi McCallum, the two songwriters struggle on trying to “be like the big B” – meaning Barry Manilow, whose presence looms over the room, framed, above the door. They roll around the stage on office chairs, hoping to “Feel the Flow” and find that “One Good Line” without much luck. The actual songs within the show, not to mention the jingles they come up with, keep somehow weakening as the show moves forward, and the Grandmother jokes and the nods to Camp Rosenblatt start feeling stale and overused.
Billed as the first new musical to hit New York City since the lockdown, the show mildly disappoints, even as it made me smile at the silliness and earnestness of the two men trying to drive this forward. Now I can’t quite comprehend the odd costume choices made by designer Sarita Fellows and the jokie choreography by Stephanie Klemons, particularly during the final number, but all and all, A Commercial Jingle… is cute, sweet, and funny enough for a 80 minute, light night of entertainment and laughs. I’m not sure Barry would be impressed, as this jingle isn’t as catchy as it should and could have been.