Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler sets sail with the new madcap musical, Fabulous!
A new musical set sail last week at the Times Square Arts Center, and while Fabulous! may not be breaking ground in the genre, it is most certainly a guilty pleasure worth seeing. Inspired by the Golden Age of Hollywood and Broadway, Dan Derby (book and lyrics) and Michael Rheault (music) have crafted a whimsical romp that draws plot lines and musical riffs from familiar titles such as Some Like It Hot, Anything Goes, and Dames at Sea.
The madcap plot follows Jane Mann (Josh Kenney) and Laura Lee Handle (Nick Morrett), two down-on-their luck female impersonators who bail on a disastrous Paris nightclub gig to headline on the luxurious (in a Love Boat kind of way) cruise ship The Queen Ethel May. Throw in a brother/sister gangster duo (Bryan Seastrom and Natalie DePuy), heartthrob Rock Henderson (Adam Kemmerer) and requisite lesbian cruise director Sylvia Smothers (Jane Aquilina) and you’ve got the recipe for a tried and true upside down cake. But a ship can’t sail without a crew… enter the nameless crew of four boys, who strut, bevel and tap their way across the ocean blue.
Fabulous! benefits from musical nods and story twists that have appeared in countless stage productions and films, so this transatlantic journey isn’t as much about keeping track of the plot as it is enjoying the ebullient performances from the leading players. As Jane Mann, Josh Kenney carries the gravitas and mostly plays the not-so-straight-man to the antics of his partner. It is a sharp, witty and vulnerable performance, culminating in “Just Me,” an 11 o’clock number that oddly appears at about 8:45. He’s the perfect balance to Nick Morrett’s Laura Lee, a big southern broad who likes things that glitter and dangerous men. The two are bosom buddies through thick and thin and manage to traverse high-octane slapstick in heels.
Less successful are the supporting characters, whose one-note performances can’t match the nuance and humor of the show’s two leading man-ladies. As the uptight cruise director, Jane Aquilina spends most of the show fiercely staring past the fourth wall into the abyss of who knows what. But when she opens her mouth to sing her Act II number, “I Feel Romantic,” in a smoky, full-out alto belt, you wish she’d abandon ship and start her own nightclub act.
“The boys,” purposefully cast as wistful, effeminate tinker tots, go through the ranks as back-up singer/dancers and manage to hit their marks throughout, but it’s PJ Palmer (Boy 3) who resists mugging and overzealous gesticulations to stay within the world of this madcap production.
Fabulous! benefits greatly from its director and choreographer. Rick Hamilton, who is also a performer, keeps the production moving at a brisk pace and navigates the theater’s wide stage with ease. Choreographer Mary Lauren brings an exuberant charm to the production, offering a vocabulary of movement that far exceeds what is typically seen Off Off Broadway, though I’m sure she wishes she had another 10 feet of stage depth.
For a fun homage to the old days of musical comedy, Fabulous! offers a refreshing evening of light-hearted fun, plenty of laughs and more sequins than a Cher concert.
Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies
Times Square Arts Center
300 West 43rd Street