The opening of The Memory Show begins with a brittle and sharp-tongued Catherine Cox in a doctor’s office, where she and the audience learn that her character, Mother, has Alzheimer’s Disease. It is a crisp and dynamic delivery, both in musical style and performance, but once that curtain pulls back and she returns home under the care of her early-midlife-crisis daughter (played by Leslie Kritzer), this two-character musical sometimes stumbles (and inevitably stutters) but eventually finds its footing.
That’s not to say that Cox and Kritzer aren’t giving it 100 percent. They tossle each other’s emotions, confide in the audience, lay in one another’s arms, ravage through props and do all of the things actresses are supposed to in dramatic musicals. Director Joe Calarco has given them room to breath and their movement feels organic throughout Brian Prather’s living room set.
What is less clear is their relationship to the audience. It is the same dramatic problem that derailed the miserable Breakfast at Tiffany’s earlier this season. I can see how the dramatic convention is needed to keep Sarah Cooper’s (book and lyrics) and Zach Redler’s (music) piece chugging along — there are only so many meltdowns, crying fits and warm hugs that the two women can possibly fit in the nonstop 80 minutes.
I admit to shedding a few tears, which arose at unexpected places. Who’s not going to cry given the subject matter? But what struck me most about these character studies was not the Alzheimer’s, but the family secrets that rise to the surface because of its inevitable impact. It is in these moments that the musical and its performers soar.
The Memory Show
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
Through May 18
What the critics are saying…
“Joe Calarco directs the Transport Group production and guides both actresses’ intense and very fine performances. Brian Prather’s intimate and evocative set is filled with photos and empty picture frames, illuminated at various times. It joins the deservedly acclaimed “Next to Normal,” about bipolar disorder, in pushing the envelope as to what subjects can make a musical. It also reminds us that noble intentions aren’t enough to make a musical sing and be fully satisfying. Easy to admire, “Memory Show” isn’t such a snap to like.” NY Daily News
“The words ‘‘musical’’ and ‘‘Alzheimer’s disease’’ aren’t often used together. Yet Sara Cooper’s new work, ‘‘The Memory Show,’’ turns out to be a poignant, sophisticated and often humorous musical about dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. Cooper has written an emotionally layered story about the frustrating effects of the disease on both patient and caregiver.” Associated Press via Boston.com