Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pulp" and "Cinderella Rocks"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi

Patricia Kane’s PULP, a play with songs, and the Gold Dust Orphans’ CINDERELLA ROCKS, a musical, are contrasting forays into Camp: Ms. Kane spoofs the steamy lesbian paperback novels of the 1950s while Ryan Landry and his Orphans send up the familiar fairy tale --- to borrow a phrase from Varla Jean Merman, the Girls must be heard and the Boys must be seen.

"PULP"

book and lyrics by Patricia Kane

music by Amy Warren and Andre Pluess

directed by Jason Southerland

Terry Logan … Dayle Ballentine
Pepper … Stephanie Carlson
Bing … Whitney Cohen
Winny … Lindsay Flathers
Vivian; Sarge … Maureen Keiller

"CINDERELLA ROCKS"

book and lyrics by Ryan Landry

original music by Bill Houghs and Ryan Landry

directed by James P. Byrne

Storyteller … Bill Hough
Cinderella … Meaghan Ludlow (Love)
Stepmother … Ryan Landry
Ptomaine … Penny Champagne
Salmonella … Olive Another
The Queen … Larry Coen
The King … James P. Byrne
The Prince … Mark Meehan
Bruno … Gene Dante

Chorus:
Jiffy Lube (aka Stephen Marc Beaudoin); Margaret Ann Brady;
TC Cheever; Michael Fontana; Wednesday Howard;
Molly Kehheher; Cheryl D. Singleton; Twinkletoes

and

Afrodite as The Fairy Godmother

Patricia Kane’s PULP, a play with songs, and the Gold Dust Orphans’ CINDERELLA ROCKS, a musical, are contrasting forays into Camp: Ms. Kane spoofs the steamy lesbian paperback novels of the 1950s while Ryan Landry and his Orphans send up the familiar fairy tale --- to borrow a phrase from Varla Jean Merman, the Girls must be heard and the Boys must be seen.

PULP’s plot is simple and direct: loner Terry Logan, open and proud, flees a scandal in Texas and ends up serving drinks at the Well, a Chicago lesbian club where she is beguiled by the seductive Bing but chooses to pry open the frosty arms of Vivian, the socialite who owns the Well; a subplot revolves around the bartender Pepper’s unrequited love for Winny, the club’s sharpshooter and male impersonator. Ms. Kane clearly loves those pulps from the Bad Old Days with their forbidden thrills, garish cover art and, like their male counterparts, their obligatory unhappy endings; she keeps the romantic entanglements simmering and the innuendos flying fast and thick, bowing to the new morality and doling out happy endings, all around --- even an offstage clash with straight society becomes a springboard for Dan(ielle) Cupid --- and Amy Warren and Andre Pluess have provided some agreeable ballads and torch songs. Zeynep Bakkal has transformed the intimate Black Box Theatre into its own private club, perfect for some civilized erotica, and director Jason Southerland keeps the comic-book dialogue crisp and dry with the butches played as gentlemen-in-the-rough and the femmes as impeccable ladies, backed by a Franz Waxman soundtrack wafting through the speakers. PULP is sexy, tongue-in-cheek fun for everyone (yes, everyone) and Maureen Keiller, in particular, offers the most stunning turnaround I’ve seen in a long, long time. I had previously known Ms. Keiller as a rubber-faced comedienne who did everything but drop her drawers to get a laugh; here, she radiates pure Class and unlocks a set of pipes which, if there is any theatrical justice, should soon have her in demand for jazz recitals. Her sergeant cameo is a relaxed, amused study in Less is More and her Vivian has two indelible moments: her authoritative silence as she pours her first cup of coffee of the day --- and the audience sits equally hushed and enchanted in her palm --- later, wracked with longing and guilt over Terry, Ms. Keiller exquisitely thrashes about to Mr. Waxman’s music so that laughter mingles with admiration at her pulling off such an outdated convention; afterwards I began to yearn for more productions featuring actors similarly emoting to music as in the old barnstorming days; if properly handled it can be tremendously effective.

Whereas PULP goes no further than two smooches and an unbuttoned blouse, the Orphans’ CINDERELLA ROCKS has simulations of oral sex (both kinds) and a graphic parody of female nudity that some may find offensive --- I know the Stepsisters are supposed to be Ugly but there are limits; this is definitely NOT a show for children. Such visuals aside, Mr. Landry has written a sturdy-enough libretto that dilutes the usual Orphan zaniness and he and composer Bill Hough have come up with sweet ballads and a duet for Cinderella and her Prince, comical caterwauling for the Sisters and a kickline for the Chorus (the over-amplification reduces the lyrics to mush, but at least the music sounds pleasing); with some tasteful revisions, CINDERELLA ROCKS could become a hip show for children, after all (well, Provincetown children, anyway).

Every Orphan show has its clever-tacky stagecraft; CINDERELLA ROCKS offers AVENUE Q-like puppets including a Dubya one, a mounted deer’s head that sings along with the quartet of human-sized pets and the pumpkin-coach galloping off to the ball, and Windsor Newton’s moonlit Act Two courtyard is actually quite beautiful. Meaghan Ludlow (Love) is a sturdy, strapping Cinderella --- she would have to be, considering the number of pratfalls she undergoes --- and Mark Meehan’s Prince, despite his wig and costume, is handsome, square-jawed and sterling-voiced; Gene Dante, acclaimed elsewhere for his Hedwig, gets to exercise his eyebrows as the Prince’s sidekick --- pity he wasn’t given a rockin’ showstopper of his own. Since several Orphan luminaries have quit the scene, Larry Coen has become the troupe’s most valued asset with his deadpan dignity akin to that of a nanny surrounded by brats; here his cotton-haired Queen evokes those matronly Wagnerian sopranos of yesteryear and Mr. Coen has a hilarious moment with a microphone when it comes to silencing the chatterbox King. Mr. Landry’s wicked Stepmother is similar to his past Grotesques but he slips in a cabaret turn for himself to demonstrate his knowing how to sell a song, when necessary (I remember well Mr. Landry’s rendition of “One for My Baby” from MADAME EX, my first Orphan encounter, preceded by a classic pratfall where he hit the floor like a plank).

If PULP has Maureen Keiller to crow over, CINDERELLA ROCKS heralds the return of Afrodite, radiant as ever, as a sassy, down-home Fairy Godmother; on the night I attended, her entrance was warmly applauded. Wherever Afrodite’s been, I’m glad she’s back.

"Pulp" (29 September - 15 October)
BOSTON THEATRE WORKS
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

"Cinderella Rocks" (6 October - 18 November)
THE GOLD DUST ORPHANS
The Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, 1256 Boylston Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 265-6222

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