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The Brontes

nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
July 10, 2013

The Brontes

Matthew Schleigh, Steve McWilliams and Gillian Shelly in a scene from The Brontes | Russ Rowland

The first expression that comes to mind when describing Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Review is “utterly unique”. They hail from Washington DC and describe themselves as “the spirit of the vagabond and the rebel…the voice of human kind’s savage soul”. They’re a fascinating conflux of rock, vaudeville and theatre whose gifted original composers Debra Buonaccorsi and Steve McWilliams offer irreverent and humorous send ups of various genre of classic literature, and are “looking to bridge the gap between a night at the theater and a rock concert ”.

In this instance their subjects are the four Bronte siblings Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell.  The performance runs the gamut from to goofy jokes, to dark ballads and macabre characterizations. This Company brings to mind a kinder, gentler Americanized version of The Tiger Lillies “Shockheaded Peter”.

The director (Rick Hammerly) maintains a lively pace throughout and employs some imaginative staging to keep the show rolling at a brisk 80 minutes. The actors all play multiple roles and do an exceptional job navigating this robust obstacle course of a show.

Five Carnies, led by the outstanding and exuberant Gillian Shelley as “the Gypsy”, visit the Brontes on the Yorkshire moors. This surprise encounter allows the creative siblings to explore the nature of their talent and encourages a kind of acceptance of their own frailties and tragic deaths… in skits and song.  There is no real story here but more of a zany musical pastiche of their lives, works and contemporary reputations. You won’t find British accents, period costumes or literary depth but you will enjoy an alternative musical take on this famous family.

The costumes by Maria Rodgers Royals are a rocking mash up of contemporary styles, Victorian lace, and circus clown.  There is no set other than musical instruments and mike stands and the performers hold their own amongst them. The lighting by Joseph R. Walls supports the ensemble well with a couple of fun effects thrown in.

Matthew Schleigh does excellent work bringing the drug addled Branwell Bronte to life (and death) His number “God Knows” was one of the best in the show.  Haely Jardis beautifully rendered poor neglected Anne. Her ballad “Anne’s song” was another highlight of the production.  The fierce Felicia Curry excels as the sullen Emily Bronte as well as her combative alter ego Heathcliff. And Debra Buonaccursi brought down the house with her heart felt “Hunger, Rebellion & Rage”.  The rest of the ensemble, Mike Kozenchak, Steve McWilliams, Jason Wilson and Rich Nagel provide fine musical and performance support.

All in all, this production meets the company’s mission in most respects and if you have a hankering for some light entertainment and wish to see Charlotte, Emily and Anne get down and dirty with electric guitars, Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Review is the fun and unique destination for you. But if you are a dedicated history buff or true musical theater aficionado this production of The Brontes may leave you wanting something more substantial.