Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Life"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Beverly Creasey

Get A "Life"

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Hurry. The best musical of the year is at The Boston Conservatory and it only runs through this weekend. THE LIFE is a high stakes, high voltage powerhouse set in Times Square---where pimps, prostitutes and hustlers make their living, living off others.

Cy Coleman’s gritty score has the musical depth of Richard Rogers’ “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” and the hard-driving rhythms from the height of ‘70s pop. The story (an under-side WEST SIDE STORY) is set at Broadway and 42nd Street, in pre-Disnified l980 ---but the ’fros and the clothes scream the funkadelic ‘70s. The prostitutes even get a righteous little number called “My Body is My Business,” knocking feminism on its ear (or should I say ‘back’?).

One showstopper in THE LIFE follows another, hardly giving you time to breathe--- but that’s not why YOU HAVE TO see this production. See it for the mega-watt performances, as good as any on the Great White Way. I wouldn’t be surprised if several Conservatory alums landed right there after this!

Director Jacqui Parker’s cast is super-energized, as if they were escaping atoms from a particle accelerator. The sparks are palpable, so much so that the audience can hardly contain itself from cheering wildly after each number. (I could hardly contain myself.) Michelle Chasse’s slick choreography incorporates jazz, ballet and the funky chicken! Just watching the pimps strut their stuff in David Costa-Cabral’s color coordinated leisure suits (and hats) is a hoot. And can these performers sing and dance! Music director F. Wade Russo makes the score sizzle.

Every character in the show gives 200% --- with Stephanie Umoh front and center as the hooker with the heart of gold. Umoh sinks her teeth into the character and spits out a fiery performance laced with genuine tenderness. Anich D’Jae is sensational as the bold, brassy sidekick, the gal who knows the ropes and can handle any situation. The charismatic Keyon Richardson is a mythic villain of operatic proportions. Bud Weber makes the opportunist/narrator role ooze with sleaze and Nicholas Ryan Rowe brings a certain sweet frailty to his doomed hero role. Peter Waldron’s simple street-set with subway stairs and tawdry neon signs glistens in John Malinowski’s hazy light. Kudos to the crew for making scene changes so smoothly and to Waldron for the evocative set pieces, like the circular bed, which speak volumes about the characters. As they say in THE LIFE, “Check it out. Check it out.”

"The Life" (5 - 9 March)
31 Hemenway Street, BOASTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide