nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
September 29, 2007
There are funny lines, quirky characters, and even poignant moments in Little Egypt, Lynn Siefert and Gregg Lee Henry's musical set in a small town of the same name in the state of Illinois. Focus on them, and forget about structure, musical segues, and three-dimensional characters and you will be able to justify the two hours and 20 minutes of skit-like entertainment at the Acorn Theatre.
Broadly, the plot zeroes in on six lonely people looking for love: Faye, an aging, foul-mouthed, alcoholic is easy prey for Hugh, the mayor of Little Egypt, who enters a midlife crisis as he turns 50; Faye's daughter, Bernadette, a former prom queen, falls in easily with Watson, a selfish, unemployed auto mechanic; and Faye's younger daughter Celeste, an awkward but brilliant girl who is just returning home after taking 12 years to finish college, meets Victor, an inarticulate security guard who suffers from serious guilt.
Jenny O'Hara as Faye, Lisa Akey as Bernadette, Gregg Henry as Watson, and Lee Wilkof in the role of Hugh all show energy and spirit even though Siefert's book does not always provide clear reasons why they should. But it is Sara Rue as Celeste and Raphael Sbarge as Victor who provide the first winning moment, which appears just before intermission. The characters emotionally connect when Celeste ceremoniously knights Victor and I felt the connection. Director Lisa James sustains the moment by easing Victor into "I Feel Pretty Good," and for the first time in the evening lyrics, music, and dialog all work together to push the plot forward.
Henry explores musical genres: rockabilly in "Nobody's Immune," rock & roll in "Livin' in the Pink," a few ballads, and a nice jazz interlude during one scene break. He shows some verbal dexterity in lyrics as in "I Feel Pretty Good," but then offers a number such as "Big Ol' Catfish," which I had trouble deciphering. Lee Wilkof begins Act II with a spirited "Hugh Hits Fifty," and both Rue and Akey display lovely voices throughout.
Siefert gives us funny lines. However, many of them feel designed with the laugh in mind, not the character or plot, and they arrive as non-sequiturs, so out of left field that you can't help but laugh. For example, Watson arrives at Victor's house and asks, "Is that a picture of Jesus Christ?" Victor's sincere response, "Yea, it's autographed." Or later Celeste says to Victor, "I don't believe in war. Why kill people if you're not going to eat them." What does this mean? In fact, Celeste is a gentle person and, as I understand her, cannibalism would not occur to her. The information is irrelevant, it doesn't go anywhere, but it does get a laugh.
Able musicians include David Matos on guitar, Denny McDermott on drums, John Miller on bass, and Robert Martin as music director on both piano and saxophone. Lax Lang designed sets, Brian Gale lighting, and Vicki Sanchez costumes.