Williamsburg! The Musical
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
August 11, 2007
Ironic musicals are very, very popular these days, following in the wake of Urinetown's massive success, and the notion of sending up the self-importance of the eponymous Brooklyn 'hood and its hipster residents is goofy and fun. Unfortunately, the writers of Williamsburg! The Musical [book by Will Brumley, music by Kurt Gellersted and Brooke Fox, lyrics by Brooke Fox, additional material by Nicola Barber] seem to have settled on having a good idea, without really shaping and crafting the material, so the show itself is half-baked at best.
The many storylines center (mostly) on a group of roommates, the newest of whom, Piper Paris, has just landed in Williamsburg. But within hours of her arrival Piper learns not only that her landlord is being threatened with legal action by the unscrupulous real estate developer Amina Snatch, but also that her parents are cutting Piper off financially. Piper decides to leap to her death off the Williamsburg Bridge, but she's intercepted by dry cleaner Shlomo Zildenberg, a Hassid who cannot even make eye contact with her because to do so is forbidden (a word that sends shivers down Piper's spine). Piper tracks Shlomo down, and the two begin an unlikely romance: He's not a hipster, and she's no Jew. Despite pressure from friends and family, the two unite and stop Amina's evil plans, which include turning all the young residents of the neighborhood into zombies.
Nothing quite gels in this musical. While most songs are at least tangentially plot-driven, there are other numbers—one about the L train, another about on-line hook-ups—that have nothing to do with the story at all. And the plot itself is a mess, incoherent and, worse, inconsistent. (What is Amina planning to do with all those zombies, and if she has them, why does she need to commit murder?) If the score were stronger, all might be forgiven, but there are only a few numbers that really land, including "Shlomo's Lament," nicely delivered by Evan Shyer, and "We Can't Look (And We Can't Touch)" for Shlomo and Piper. The rest are best in their lyrics, if not exactly notable.
Deborah Wolfson has staged the show with a keen eye; her choreography for a largish cast on a smallish stage is economical and fun. The design team (sets by Michael Wilson Morgan, lighting by Alison May, and costumes by Jennifer Rogien) has done noble work on a shoestring budget. The cast is a more mixed bag. Allison Guinn as Piper has such an odd energy that it's difficult to get on Piper's side, and Nicola Barber (co-creator of the piece) finds exactly one note for villain Amina Snatch and holds onto it like a dog with a bone. But Colin Israel as one of the roommates, Terry Palasz as The Polish Landlady (yes, that is the character's name, which is very funny), and Jesse Teeters as various characters all offer sharp and hilarious work.
It's too bad Williamsburg! The Musical doesn't live up to the genuinely strong idea at its center. Unfortunately, at the moment, it stops well short of complete success.