nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
September 15, 2006
In Hal Goldberg and Stan Richardson's new musical, The Children, a school bus full of kids turn into catatonic murderous zombies after being exposed to a cloud of radioactive waste, and proceed to terrorize their town. Tensions run high, bodies pile up, and hacked off limbs fly through the air. In between, a handful of townspeople reveal their anxieties, air their grievances, and sing a love song or two. Based on the 1980 horror film of the same name, The Children is a little bit zany and a little bit spooky, and will provide both chills and delight for all theatergoers tuned in to its specialized brand of humor.
The usual stock characters are on hand: there's the sturdy and reliable sheriff, Billy; the manic, neurotic housewife, Cathy; the sex-crazed young lovers, Suzie and deputy sheriff Harry; the bumbling backwoods hicks, Hank and Frank; and the warm, jovial matron, Molly. Librettist Richardson and director Tony Speciale have a blast poking fun at all of them, especially the overbearingly unfeminine Molly, who is played by a male actor (Jeff Hiller, in a screamingly funny performance). They also have fun with Harry, the resident hunk: in one musical number, he tears off his undershirt for dramatic effect only to don a fresh one and, then, tear it off again. (This gag repeats a couple of times, and never loses steam.) In another number, Harry duets with Suzie while dry humping each other so graphically that a room is in order.
Then, there are the hacked off limbs. Far be it from me to say who they belong to, but the effect of watching a seemingly endless parade of them fly in from the wings, littering the bare stage, is like watching clowns pour out of a Volkswagen.
Goldberg and Richardson have written a good score full of memorable moments—especially "Harry the Hawk," a riotous number featuring Harry, Hank, and Frank. The Children is blessed with a cast full of stellar pipes. As Suzie, Megan Reinking's powerhouse voice blows the roof off the joint. Maria de Cesare also has her share of choice moments as Cathy. As Harry, Heath Calvert shows he is the total package, displaying a strong, commanding voice. And, Tally Sessions does fine, solid work as Billy. The rest of the ensemble—Mick Bonde, Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone, Trisha Rapier, Jonathan Rayson, and Stephanie Thompson—are equally talented, and acquit themselves well.
Despite everything The Children has going for it, I have to admit I was a little confused by some of it—mostly the story's focus on the inner lives of the townspeople. All well and good, but I kept hoping for more of the title characters, and some cheesy horror action involving them (I should add that, on this point, mine seemed to be a minority opinion: the rest of the opening night crowd seemed quite content with the townies). And, Speciale could stand to tighten up the pacing in some places, mostly in a couple of the show's early exposition scenes.
All in all, though, The Children is an enjoyable diversion that will no doubt prove to be a highlight for many at this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival.