Monday, March 25, 2013

F#%king Up Everything - A Review

By David Pasteelnick

Have you ever been to Times Scare?  No, that isn't a typo, Times Scare is an entertainment complex on 8th Avenue between West 42 and 43rd Streets and home to the Elektra Theatre, where F#%king Up Everything, a charming new musical that opened on March 24th, following a successful debut at last year's NYMF, is currently playing.

F#%king Up Everything is a rock musical and the first new production to debut at the Elektra.  Music and Lyrics are by David Eric Davis, who also collaborated on the book with Sam Forman.  Jen Wineman directs and choreographs the show, and musical direction is by Eli Zoller.

F#%king Up Everything follows a small group of young hipsters in current day Brooklyn fumbling through the fits and starts of their various creative and romantic pursuits.  There is nothing all that new here, as far as plot and characters go.  What makes this show work is its earnestness and the dynamism of its cast and production team.  Christian (Max Crumm) and Jake (Jason Gotay) are best friends but rivals in romance.  Ivy (Dawn Cantwell) is Jake's gal pal who secretly pines for him.  The rivalry becomes heated when Ivy's gorgeous college pal, Juliana (Katherine Cozumel), comes to town.  Complicating this arrangement further is Ivy's on-again-off-again stoner boyfriend Tony (Douglas Widick) and his monosyllabic pal Drummer (George Salazar).  Also in the mix is band promoter Arielle (Lisa Birnbaum).  The dialogue overall is fresh and honest, spiked with great comic zest.  The score, orchestrated by Matt Hinkley and backed by a tight onstage band led by Zoller, effectively serves the story through a range of high-energy rock songs, quirky uptempo tunes, and heartfelt ballads.

The cast is uniformly engaging but the clear standout is Crumm, last seen on Broadway as an alternatively cast Danny Zuko in the most recent revival of Grease.  His natural talent shines even brighter here as the nerdy yet ebullient foil to Jake's sexy, band frontman.  Crumm's exuberant performance anchors the show and provides it with its beating heart.  His fumbling attempts to attain Juliana's affections are both painful and endearing and he and Cozumel, whose ukulele solos are as delicately beautiful as she is, have a charming and genuine chemistry.  The bromance with Jake is slightly less convincing, as Gotay is more effective here as the rake in his wooing of Juliana and his obliviousness in his interactions with Cantwell's hapless Ivy.  The other standout is Birnbaum, as band-promoter Arielle.  A riot-grrrl Lucille Ball, she steals basically ever scene she is in.  Widick and Salazar have their charms but I wish they had more to do, particularly Salazar who was so enjoyable in the recent revival of Godspell.

The Christian-Jake-Juilana love triangle is the strongest element of the production, as it is well-written and pleasantly complex.  As a result, the Ivy-Tony romance languishes and feels under-developed.  This is not the fault of the performers; they simply don't have as much stage time and material to work with.  Since the show runs less than 100 minutes, the creators could either add more to this aspect (and add an intermission), or eliminate it entirely and focus more on the primary love triangle.  As it is, Ivy and Tony's interactions feel a bit tacked on and vestigial, more a dramatic device designed to help resolve the Christian-Jake-Juilana dilemma than a fully-fleshed out part of the action.  A couple of other plot devices strain credulity at times, but the genial nature of the show generates enough good will to compensate for these minor lapses.

I want to give a big thumbs-up to the work of the design team.  The simple yet effective set design by Deb O., who also designed props, clearly and cleverly grounds the location of each scene, and the lighting by Joel E. Silver does the same.  Melissa Trin's costume design also deserves praise, if for nothing more than the delightful t-shirts that Christian sports throughout.  Kudos also to David Valentine for his puppet creations, models of which should be on sale in the lobby (I'd have snapped up at least one of them on my way out).

F#%king Up Everything performs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 8pm, and Saturdays at 10pm.  Tickets are available by phone at (866) 811-4111, at the show's website, and at the box office at 669 8th Avenue.

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