note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
They’re back, this time by popular demand. Image Theater of Lowell has teamed up with composer-playwright Gail Phaneuf and songwriter Ernie LiJoie through March 10 to present a newly revamped version of their two-act, 90-minute musical, “Monsters: A Mid Life Musical Meltdown,” starring Boston favorite Cheryl McMahon as Mother, at the Regent Theater in Arlington.
McMahon a graduate of Arlington High School, has graced many Boston and area stages, but is best known locally for her 18-year portrayal as Ebenezer Scrooge’s housemaid, Mrs. Dilber, in “A Christmas Carol,” at North Shore Music Theatre.
“Monsters” premiered in 2006 with Centastage at the Boston Center for the Arts, with McMahon as Mother. The show recently appeared at the Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, Maine.
Although “Monsters” has some fun scenes and fine songs, the play needs some fine tuning. Co-directors Jerry Bisantz and Phaneuf lead a talented cast, but the material is thin. John Kramer provides musical direction, and Michael Clark Wonson creates some magic moments with his lighting effects.
The play opens briskly and brightly, with theme song “Everybody’s Got Monsters,”and the first act consists mostly of Samantha’s encounters with her mother, and individual introductions to her monsters - Apathy, Fear and Body.
Here’s the plot: It’s single, career-minded stockbroker Samantha’s (Emily Browder Melville) 40th birthday, and she needs a change - a big change - in her lifestyle. She’s about to get a big, important promotion but she hates her job. Her overly protective, Debbie Downer of a mother is horrified when Samantha announces she wants to quit her job and go to Machu Pichu, Peru, for a vacation.
Opera-trained Melville, who delivers a fine portrayal, has a wide range. She is a popular performer, formerly with now-defunct Opera Boston and the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra, but also in clubs such as Johnny D.’s and the Regattabar.
“It’s official. You’re over the hill -40 years old,” Samantha’s mother announces. “At 40, your mind turns to mush.” Samantha optimistically replies, “But 40 is the new 20!”
Samantha’s mother is a reflection of her inner demons that hold her back. They morph into visible creatures, revealing themselves to her, plaguing her with worry and apprehension. Patti Hathaway as Apathy is comical, especially when she insists, “I don’t look scary, but I’m bad,” as she plunks herself on the sofa, with a big bag of chips, in front of the TV. Zachary D. Gregus as Body is a fun fashion diva; while Lisa Beausoleil, who originated her role as Fear at Centastage, is overbearing.
Two knocks at the door boost Samantha’s resolve - a large birthday gift, which the demons caution her to not open, and a beautiful young stripper in skimpy attire who’s a psychology major, earning money by delivering song-and-dance birthday messages. Pretty Jennifer Fogarty, a favorite at Ogunquit Playhouse, lights up the stage as Samantha’s alter-ego, Beautiful, especially during her number, “Happy Birthday, Baby,” and in her duet with Melville, “The Next Part”. Beautiful is a can-do demon, who’s also training for the marathon, she says.
As the demons haunt Samantha, swirling about her, pulling and tugging at her, and her mother’s portrait and person annoyingly add to the monsters’ chaos, Samantha decides turning 40 isn’t a bad thing. Her cup is half full and her future is ripe with new beginnings. The play ends on an upbeat note, with a surprising twist.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical, written by composer Ernie Lijoi, formerly of Dedham, and Boston composer-playwright Gail Phaneuf, appearing through March 10 at the Regent Theater, 7 Medford St., Arlington. Performances are March 8, 9,10, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25, $30;students, seniors, $5 off; group discounts. Visit www.regenttheatre.com or call the Box Office at 781-646-4849. For more information, visit www.monstersthemusical.com.