Friday, July 24, 2015

FOOLERIE: Entry in NY Musical Theatre Festival Runs Amok with Shakespeare

The cast of Foolerie
Photo by Lance Brown

So…You know that musical that’s playing now, the one that has Shakespeare as a central character and where the cast runs around acting very silly and sings songs that remind you of other show tunes? 

Well, this isn’t about that show. 

This is about the other musical that’s playing now, that also has Shakespeare as a central character, with the cast running around acting very silly and singing songs that remind you of other show tunes. 

Confused?  Good.  You are now primed to enter the topsy-turvy world of Foolerie, a musical which is not Something Rotten! but which, in its own distinguished way, mines the same source material. 

Foolerie is one of the 50 or so productions that are being presented in that annual three-week whirlwind of activity  known as the New York Musical Theatre Festival, whose purpose is to provide a showcase for up-and-coming writers and composers of musicals.

In this case, the up-and-coming writer and composer is Santino DeAngelo, who has fashioned a work that will leave you feeling as though you had consumed some funky mushrooms and fallen into a dream about a land of zanies. There you will take a journey into burlesque-style bada bing bada boom low comedy, encounter traces of Gilbert and Sullivan, and experience a full-bodied embrace of Stephen Sondheim.

The premise is this:  A troop of traveling players (fools and clowns all) proposes a competition. Is there anyone in all the land who can outclown their leader, Clowne (Ian Knauer)?  The prize is the scepter and all the spoils of power that go with it. For the loser, the reward is death. 

Just when it appears there will be no takers, up onto the stage steps Knave (Ryan Breslin), a doe-eyed philosopher who believes that the antic Clowne has it all wrong. The purpose of fools is not to distract us with pratfalls and hijinks, he posits, but to “heal with the truth.” 

The gauntlet has been tossed. The game is on. 

At this point, logic melts away into a series of Alice’s-Adventures-In-Wonderland moments, as the company puts on a play-within-a-play on the theme of love before their host and judge, the Earl. The characters in their play include, among others, Shakespeare and his mother (Clowne and Knave alternate between these roles), and various characters from Shakespeare’s works, including Malvolio (Patrick Massey), Friar Laurence (Geoff Belliston), and Shylock (Patrick Richwood). 

The plot, such as it is, keeps reshaping itself as Clowne and Knave each attempts to seize control of the goings-on in order to come out on top. When Clowne holds the reins, the jokes and songs fall into the category of buffoonery and crude burlesque. When Knave is in the driver’s seat, things turn lyrical.  In the end, the Earl, voiced by comic Gilbert Gottfried (which should give you a hint about the sort of jokes you can expect to encounter) decides…  (we’ll let you find that out for yourself). 

As a playwright, Mr. DeAngelo could use a hand in shaping the convoluted plot, and the reliance on unsavory frat boy humor does wear thin. But he does show more flair as a composer.  I was particularly taken with a manic number called “Malvolio’s Soliloquy,” splendidly performed by Mr. Massey, and by the company’s rendition of the optimistic “The World Can Be Your Oyster.” But far too much of the music sounds like variations on a theme by Sondheim – so much so that I’d be inclined to retitle the musical, “Into The (Arden) Woods.” 

However, Foolerie is still in “workshop” mode, and its composer, a recent graduate from Binghamton University, is just entering his mid-twenties. Let’s hope both will continue to evolve. We'll be watching!

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