Alie B. Gorie, Matthew McGloin, Adam B. Shapiro, & Evan Ruggiero in ‘Bastard Jones.’
(Photo: Carol Rosegg via The Broadway Blog.)
Like many young theater enthusiasts, when I was a kid I’d put on shows in the living room, the garage, or any place where I could pull a makeshift curtain or make a grand entrance. And while my subject matter wasn’t nearly as bawdy as Bastard Jones, a new musical by Marc Acito and Amy Engelhardt, it had a similar youthful enthusiasm that it buoyantly captured by the cast of nine at The Cell.
Dubbed a 21st-century salon, The Cell feels like an R-rated living room of my youth. The townhouse can seat a few dozen at most, and the action of this 1737 musical adaption of Henry Fielding’s sex farce jumps between floors, offering slamming doors, plenty of phallic references, and innovative staging by Acito with choreography by Joe Barros.
In the spirit of Candide (Voltaire’s French satire of the same era), the plot follows bastard Tom Jones (Evan Ruggiero) in his pursuit of love interest Sophia Shepherd (Elena Wang) and a host of other characters played by a diversely talented ensemble. Other standouts include Crystal Lucas-Perry as Lady Bellaston, Rene Ruiz as Partridge, and the matriarchal Cheryl Stern in a slew of roles, who delivers deadpan comedic timing that offers a delightful contrast to the physical shenanigans.
In the title role, Ruggiero is a charmer, with a wide-eyed disposition and piercing bari-tenor voice, along with other musical instrument talents that appear throughout. He’s also missing a leg (lost to bone cancer in his early 20s), which I even hesitate to mention because his “disability” is used as an asset throughout. I wondered several times, “Why isn’t this kid working on Broadway?” I also didn’t note that ensemble member Alie B. Gorrie was legally blind until my guest pointed it out in the program notes. In no way do I intend to single out these actors’ disabilities except to say they’re damn fine actors and contribute to Acito’s vision of “theater that’s inclusive, collaborative and reflective of positive social change.”
Bastard Jones could use some trimming in its two and a half hour running time, and some minor tightening of its physical bits, but these are minor considerations for a show in development. I hope Second Stage, MCC Theatre, or any number of New York City’s Off-Broadway theater companies pay a visit to The Cell to see Bastard Jones and perhaps, continue the adventure.
Here’s what other critics are saying:
“Like Tom, Bastard Jones is randy yet ingenuous; it’s like a very bawdy Disney movie, with hummable pop music to match. Staged with few frills, it relies mainly on the talents of its diverse and impressive cast of nine, which includes Elena Wang as Tom’s virtuous love and Crystal Lucas-Perry as a rich and insatiable femme fatale. (Both sing tremendously well.) If this smartly plotted and irrepressible musical moves beyond the Cell, there is work to be done in beefing up the characters and polishing the jokes. But the show has legitimate potential.” Time Out NY
“Fielding’s novel takes aim at oppression and exclusion caused by class hierarchies and the blatant hypocrisies of those wielding moral power. As social commentary, Bastard Jones reflects how little has changed in the last several centuries. And as performed by the enormously talented and notably diverse cast, the production demonstrates that, at least in musical theater, inclusiveness is possible.” Talkin’ Broadway
“Engelhardt’s music is generally fun, with large infusions of rock and other upbeat styles, but there’s little here that will last beyond the show it’s written for. Engelhardt and Acito’s lyrics range from clever to serviceable and the songs all get worthy performances from everyone in the well-cast show. Of particular note are the beautiful Elena Wang, gifted with marvelous pipes, and Crystal Lucas-Perry, who rocks her numbers big time.” Theater’s Leiter Side
338 West 23rd Street, NYC
Through July 14
One hundred percent of the production’s profits will benefit Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, which works nationally to end homelessness among LGBT youth.
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.