Love In A Tub
nytheatre.com review by Jason Jacobs
August 17, 2011
An early lyric in Love in a Tub promises to “rock the Restoration for my generation”—so let me start with the news that this show ROCKS! Loosely based on a rarely-seen comedy by George Etherege (better known for Man of Mode), the convoluted plot concerns a love triangle between Lord Genesis Beaufort (“Geni” to his friends), his beloved Graciana Bevill, and her betrothed, arrogant Colonel Bruce. Graciana is way turned on by Beaufort—as are her sister, Aurelia, and her brother, Lovis. Meanwhile, Beaufort’s buddy Sir Frederick Frollick attempts to seduce the randy Widow Bevill to get to her money. The play, reimagined by a hair-metal band called The Fyddlers (with a little help from a terrific ensemble of supporting actors and backup singers), proves that if you mix a comedy-of-manners circa 1665 with rock-show circa 1984, and throw in a tub, the results are pretty F-ing awesome, dude.
Lead guitarist James Manzello, the auteur in the house, pens the music and lyrics, co-writes the book, co-directs, and leads the cast as the love-struck Beaufort. It’s rare to see someone handle so many roles so well, starting with a great concept and executing it finely at every level. While acknowledging the book is “ruthlessly stolen” from Etherege, he’s created a smart adaptation that blows the dust (and pants) off an obscure English comedy. His songs evoke familiar '80s metal sounds, quote other pop genres, but also jump out as great tunes in their own right. And as love-struck Beaufort, Manzello charms as a blonde-locked, doe-eyed, romantic airhead, while simultaneously playing a mean guitar.
Better yet, Manzello is not the sole attraction in this goofy spectacle; each and every member of this ensemble rules their time in the spotlight. As Frollick, Beaufort’s wild BFF and the band’s leader singer, Jimmy Joe McGurl struts, belts, and flicks his tongue with bravado, but he is genuinely sweet in a power ballad where he and Beaufort express the depth of their bromantic relationship. Daniel Blondell as a deadpan French servant (a Roadie in this world) steals the show with every subtle move while actually saving the performance from occasional technical mishaps. As the pompous Colonel Bruce, swarthy Alexander Kikis transforms several times. His most striking appearance is as an underwear-clad angel who stirs the hidden passions of foppish Lovis Bevill (Joshua R. Pyne on the bass). Kikis croons his songs beautifully and also dirty dances with Aurelia Bevill (husky Hunter Cain in baby-doll drag). As the one modern “dude” who doesn’t play a role in the Restoration antics, drummer Chris Gizzi (played sweetly by drummer Chris Gizzi) serves as a down-to-earth narrator and occasional commentator. The testosterone level in this arena is intense, and much like the rock world it lampoons, the show mostly relegates its female cast members (Marissa Parry and Morgan Scott) to the role of groupies on the sidelines. The great exception is Emily Kron, a dynamic triple threat who, as Graciana, melds Restoration heroine with rock diva and hits us with her best shot every chance she gets.
The production is supported by a strong team: co-writer Oliver Wason and co-director Joel Bassin have collaborated with Manzello to create a funny book and an electrifying production. The directors make excellent use of the architecture of the Ellen Stewart Theatre, though the staging could only get better with a set design and a more defined playing arena. Lui Konno’s costumes go far to create this hybrid Restoration-rock world. And for most of the show, sound engineer Fabio Blazina finds a balance that allows the band to the rock AND the lyrics to be heard! The script could use some tightening—particularly a section following a tour-de-force musical duel where the plot loses focus—and a song about a Christmas Snake feels like a non-sequitur. And I wish Manzello and his team could end the show with a number that pulls back to a wider view and explores what the Restoration and rock have to say to our own time. But these are mere suggestions for a show already that offers so much love and—of course—a tub.