nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
September 27, 2007
Anyone who has had a job that underutilizes his or her skills will sympathize with the receptionist in the highly imaginative spoof of a musical Sympathy Jones. Masi Asare (music and lyrics) and Brooke Pierce (book) inject wit and winks to keep the plot moving. With the help of a slick cast, sharp direction, and a very capable three-piece band, Sympathy Jones showcases a great deal of talent.
Told in two acts, the story begins at a press conference where an uncanny new product—a watch that stops time—is introduced and then stolen. We are swept into the offices of an intelligence agency where the agents are a bit bumbling and the receptionist, Sympathy Jones, and her friend, Caprice (in the Gadgets Department and subsequently promoted to the Department of Disguisement), are the only ones with less gas than a helium balloon. Sympathy, eager to become an agent, finds an opportunity to prove her mettle when a confidential file related to the theft is left on her desk. She follows a lead and discovers the villains and their dangerous plot to create a bomb that freezes time. The rest is chase, and the chase is fun, if not somewhat goofy.
The cast is quite good, and there are standouts. Thursday Farrar gives the musical its strong start with a sultry "Time Will Tell," setting the bar high. And, for the most part, the rest of the cast delivers. Jimmy Ray Bennett plays the top-notch agent, Nick Steele, with enough idiosyncrasies to fill Bellevue. His timing is impeccable and invariably he lands a laugh. Amanda Ryan Paige in the role of Doris, the new assistant, combines wide-eyed innocence with a diabolical desire to sabotage Sympathy's job, and comes up with a fine recipe for comedy. Jane Summerhays tackles evil incarnate as Kitty Hawk and sings a fine duet with Glenn Peters, the mad scientist who is her lover Tick Tock in "If I Didn't Have You." The duet is a clever twist on Cole Porter's classic "You're the Top." In it, Asare uses negative metaphors to further define her characters and then goes on:
What a mess I'd be
How much less I'd be
If I didn't have you.
Charlie Pollock as David, an up-and-coming agent, and Christopher Carl as Pinkerton, head of the agency, sing a strong trio with Bennett in "Get Your Gun." In the titular role, Kate Shindle delivers a credible, fresh-faced receptionist looking for the excitement that is sorely missing from her job. The cast is nicely rounded out with Tony Chiroldes as Henry Oscill, the inventor and ex-husband of evil Kitty Hawk, and Lucy Sorensen who plays Sympathy Jones's supportive friend, Caprice.
Marvelous direction by Sarah Gurfield adds vision to the professionalism. The pace is vigorous and the energy exuberant. With no pause at scene breaks, she has the cast of ten swoop onto the stage disguised as agents in scarves and sunglasses to move furniture and props. The result is a swirl of movement that adds to the vigor. Only one moment jarred, and that was at the very end, when I thought the play was over, but there was one more scene.
Phillip Kirchman, on piano, leads the talented three-piece band that sits on stage. Michael Case and Dan Riggs are on bass and drums, respectively. Credit for easily moveable sets goes to Kerry Chipman; Herrick Goldman designed nuanced lighting, and Mike Floyd created distinctive costumes, notably Sympathy's dress/coat ensemble and Steele's metal pants.