Reviewed by Cindy Pierre
Mona Mae Katt( Mariand Torres) is hell-bent on being defiant. She is defiant in posture, tone, spirit, and most certainly in response to Tippo, Georgia's demand that she admit to murdering her husband 10 hours after their nuptials. Unfortunately, boldness and sometimes the pretense of boldness is the only dramatic key that Torres achieves in Jim Wann and Patricia Miller's The People vs. Mona. Torres sings beautifully, but has minimal thespian weight, lacking presence and a connection with the audience. Yet, the weakness in her performance is not entirely her fault. Wann and Miller's silly material does very little to come to Torres' aid.
In general, the musical numbers, touching on various genres from country to gospel, are amusing, but repetitive and trite. There are incessant references to animals that are not necessarily linked, most notably to frogs, the "mascot" of Mona's hangout, the Frog Pad. The Frog Pad, inspiring several peals of annoying ribbits, is in danger of becoming the site for a riverboat casino should Mona be carted off to jail. This most important revelation is delayed for 45 minutes with antics and superficial filler.
Mona doesn't seem to mind that she's stuck with defense attorney Jim Summerford (Richard Binder), a lawyer who has never won a case and who is romantically linked to Mavis Frye (Karen Culp), Prosecutor and supporter of the riverboat casino development. The characters often communicate using a melodic call and answer scheme, but the ridiculous line of questioning for the trial illuminates very little. Save for a recycled but engaging debate about the dueling nature of God, the dramatic brace supporting the songs is absent. Some of the ensemble, however, trump the material to deliver good performances.
Omri Schein, in four roles as different as night and day, sets himself apart as the most versatile performer of the show. Schein embraces his role as the butt of jokes with aplomb, and has the where with all to amuse and excite the audience. You'll have to suspend disbelief to buy Marcie Henderson as male character Blind Willy, but she tackles this bluesy staple as vigorously as her feminine curves will allow. As Tish Thomas, she oozes sex appeal in the same manner as former Ally McBeal star Lisa Nicole Carson. As Officer Bell, David Jon Wilson challenges Torres for best voice. His vibrato is pumped out by his expert breath control, and just when you think he can't hold his note any longer, he thrills you by exceeding expectations. He's also pretty funny to boot.
The direction by Kate Middleton is strong, and the choreography by Jill Gorrie is loopy, but appropriate for this musical. The cast are very relaxed with each other, and their voices meld well to carry through the space. Overall, they have a penchant for comedy, which bodes well in a piece that inspires laughter, intended or not.
The People vs. Mona is a mediocre effort, lacking innovation and excellence in most areas. It does, however, consist of a lively cast that does its best to delight. And those endeavors should not be left without remark.
Through August 4th. Tickets: $20 212-868-4444 or http://www.smarttix.com/. Abingdon Mainstage Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, New York, NY 10018