According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Iron Curtain
by Aaron Riccio

While Iron Curtain may have a steely, menacing title, this new musical premiering at Prospect Theater Company is actually a warm, friendly comedy. If it forgets to be funny in the second act, it’s just a momentary (and necessary) break to indulge in some sweet romance and a welcome pause that lets the audience catch its breath after all the laughing. The endgame still needs some work, and the pacing is a little too reliant on stream-of-consciousness punning (enough to beat a dead horse), but the casting is terrific and carries the day.

Murray and Howard are “The Sorriest Team Around,” an odd couple of songwriters who can’t catch a break. Their luck changes after they are “recruited” (read: abducted) by Onanov Broadway, a Russian front for “The Ministry of Musical Persuasion” in the USSR, and “encouraged” (forced) to fix the currently running musical, Okastroma. Ensconced in the Lapov Luxury (not as nice as it sounds) they decide to adapt their show Faust Ball into a pro-communist hit called Damnable Yankees. Yes, Iron Curtain affords many opportunities for puns of all persuasions, growing to a climax with “That’s Capital,” the Act II opening. Even the sinister plots—Schmearnov of the KGB believes them to be spies—give in to humor: “The Party Line” is actually a kick-dancing line (and Schmearnov a sultry cabaret act), and “If Not for Musicals” is a chorus line salute that makes evil communists about as threatening as Hitler in The Producers.

If Iron Curtain seems artificial, it’s only in homage to traditional fifties musicals, and gets away with it with tons of parody. I wish the lyrics and music (by Peter Mills and Stephen Weiner, respectively) were less sophomoric (only “A Frau Divided” pushes the envelope vocally), but each song is unique enough to breeze by with good humor to spare. Susan DiLallo’s book, however, only has a good story: the dialogue relies far too much on two-liners and a recapitulation of what the songs have already covered. Still, the actors deliver their lines with such good faith that Iron Curtain just oozes warmth.

Jeff Edgerton, who plays the romantic Murray, is perhaps the culprit there: aside from having a solid and sincere tenor voice, he’s also charming, and a perfect foil for the cynical Howard (played by Marcus Neville). The only consideration is that these two have far better chemistry with each other than with their romances, Masha (Jessica Grove) and Shirley (Maria Couch), though that’s more a failure of the script than of the heart. There’s no doubt, after all, that either of the two can sing, although the acoustics often swallowed Couch’s words, and the sporadic spotlight sometimes cut off her head. Slight mishaps, both, under the otherwise excellent direction of Cara Reichel, whose only real problem was finding something believable for the chorus to do in “Eleven O’Clock Number,” the only poorly choreographed song.

I mention these gaffes lightly because of how otherwise enjoyable Iron Curtain is. There isn’t a bad song in the bunch, nor does it lack the enthusiasm for them. The overall theme is a bit shallow, but that’s just a sure-fire way to avoid drowning in bathos, and when all’s said and done, Iron Curtain comes out smelling like a nice, Red rose.

West End Theater (263 West 86th Street)

Tickets (212-352-3101): $18.00

Performances: Thursday-Saturday @ 8:00/Sunday @ 3:00

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