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.

Friday, August 10, 2007

IDOL: The Musical

The Claymates, a ragtag group of social misfits in Steubenville, Ohio that worship American Idol alum Clay Aiken, prepare a routine to audition for him when the "Idol Tour" comes to middle America. Although there are pockets of entertainment and genuine talent, this musical satire lacks crucial development of its characters, inventive choreography and consistency.


Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Writer Bill Boland and Composer Jon Balcourt's IDOL: The Musical both derides and makes excuses for the maniacal fans of American Idol's Clay Aiken. No, Clay doesn't make a cameo appearance in the show, but the cast of ten have a gigantic, cardboard replica of him (that is not accurately in his likeness) to revolve around. And revolve they do. Emerging onstage in striped hooded cloaks by Keith Axton that are meant to invoke monks, the soon-to-be community of college grads "ohm" and chant their way into clay-ziness. It is the perfect beginning to the hilarious worshipping that ensues.

Boland makes certain that a diverse group of worshippers are represented, including goths, nerds, Brits, b-boys, grease monkeys, cowboys, camera hounds, dominatrixes, and over-the-hill starlets. And of course, this media-happy world wouldn't be complete without a saucy villainess fluffing up their dreams, and then summarily squashing them. Unfortunately, the plot is one of the weaknesses of this musical.

Adrienne (glamour puss Katy Reinsel), cousin to domme-in-private Emily (a hilariously passionate Stephanie Robinson), breezes back into town with a proposition for the Claymates: prepare a song and dance routine to audition while the "IDOL Tour" is in town. "Aging starlet" and mother to Emily, Midge (strong-piped Dawn Barry) is called in to choreograph, and the group proceeds to show off their individual skills for their own 15 minutes of fame, banding together for a clunky, destined-to-be-mocked routine. Unfortunately, Adrienne talks out of both sides of her mouth, giving them false confidence on one side and planning their doom on the other. While they are distracted with their poor number, she sculpts her own showstopping routine with the assistance of pants-sparing nerd, Connor (Philip Deyesso). Adrienne's ambitious nature, tried before in other shows and other characters, seems unnecessarily vicious, given that unbeknownst to him, she implicates Connor in her ploy. There simply is no need for her to destroy Connor, a man that she considers to already be beneath her. Flimsy and unnatural, the plot requires her to systematically plan their unpreparedness for this audition in a manner that suggests she wouldn't have other fans to contend with. Like the other Claymates, she'll do anything to get out of Steubenville, yet already behaves as if she is worldly and too good to be one.

One other problem area for this show is the underdevelopment of characters. Emily is said to have a husband, and Alex is said to have a son, but these are not details that are elaborated on, and are simply out of place for this light-hearted musical. It is enough that these people clearly do not feel comfortable in their own skin and hide under facades and media emulation. Giving them domestic problems, particularly without proper explanation, expands the issues where they should be isolated to their self-image.

Although Chippendales-hopeful, b-boy J.D. (a commanding Joe Walker), Adrienne, Emily and Midge all have numbers that showcase their hidden desires and true selves, the remainder of the cast is either underused or unnecessary. Some characters enjoy an exaggerated solo, while others such as Kodi (Shadae Smith) seem dispensable due to Boland's writing. Through voice-overs, there is a minor amount of heckling and ridiculing from the townspeople, but not nearly enough for the magnitude of Clay-worshipping represented. Additionally, though the American Idol judges are represented through voice-overs, the impersonations are not spot-on, and snap us out of Clay-rapture.

Although these ADHD, Ritalin-popping undergrads all want their 15 minutes of fame, few distinguish themselves with the material in this show. Goth girl Cass (Kierstyn Sharrow) wins the prize for the most distinctive voice, even over Alex (Jillian Giacchi), who wails into a Kelly Clarkson/Mariah Carey note to be remembered. As they "quake for Aiken, and shake their bacon", they do occasionally thrill with knee-slapping humor, particularly in "Simon Says", a well-written number that exploits the Idol frenzy to a tee.

Technically, the lighting cues by Charles Shatzkin are too sharp, and the scenic design by Brian Howard, although visually stimulating, is prop-heavy and underused. The choreography by Associate Choreographer Joe Walker is humdrum, and only explodes with his own solos. The direction by Daniel Tursi is competent enough, but too many elements override his contribution.

With everyone breaking out of their Claymate shell in the end, it is simply too perfect a scenario for everyone to experience a metamorphosis. However, the show does drive the point home about the importance of being yourself and putting the "idols back on the shelf", even if it lobs you over the head with it through repetition. With a generation so obsessed with "rising from obscurity", it is easy to begin a love affair with stardom and media stars. This critique of pop culture obsession, although flawed, is a cheeky stab at ending the addictions.

Opens August 12th through September 2nd, 2007.
45th Street Theatre
354 West 45th Street, 1st Fl.New York, NY 10036
Tickets: 212-868-4444 $60

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