Cruising to Croatia
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 8, 2008
Peter Mikochik's new musical, Cruising to Croatia, is both charming and loose. One can see the possibilities for this diamond-in-the-rough in its current raw and unpolished state. The denizens of this road trip story lope through the proceedings with a breezy zaniness reminiscent of the old Hope & Crosby "Road To" movies. While it seems clear that part of Cruising to Croatia's casual thrown-together feel is intentional (another throwback to the ol' Hope & Crosby days), it also seems as if the show's looseness may be the result of some soft writing (the script feels very much like a work-in-progress) and a timid effort by the creative team.
The story follows the exploits of Mark and Teddy, two blind buddies who hop a cruise ship to Croatia to track down Mark's sexy Internet chat buddy, a disembodied female voice whose IP address Teddy traces back to Zagreb. Posing as members of the ship's house band, Mark and Teddy encounter a group of colorful characters including Dr. Lena, a brassy redhead in search of adventure and excitement (and maybe an amorous vacation hookup), Captain Blaze, the ship's no-nonsense skipper, and Shrub, a Texas billionaire also in search of Mark's nameless Internet pal.
There's a kernel of a good idea here that could be served better by making the script longer. At a compact running time of only 45 minutes, Cruising to Croatia barely has any time to develop its characters or situations before wrapping things up. The show zips along without any real conflict arising. The characters never encounter any obstacles they can't surmount with a pithy remark or a fortuitously-placed scene change, and the individual scenes are strung together on only the most tenuous thread of causality.
Although billed as a musical, Cruising to Croatia is closer to a play with songs only because almost none of the tunes advance the story. Penned by a slew of composers including Mikochik, director Pamela Sabaugh, and cast member Adam Linn, the songs contain nice melodies and some nice turns of phrase, but they are underserved by a cast that looks uncomfortable singing them. There's an overall tentativeness to everything the actors do that makes the show look as if it were cobbled together on the lam. I suspect the performers will gain more confidence as they continue the run, which will no doubt inject some high energy joie de vivre into the production. Regardless, everyone here manages to score a big laugh or two at some point, especially reliable indie theater veterans Robert Pinnock and Danny Bowes (as Mark and Teddy, respectively).
The show's brightest spot is its two-piece band, which features Mikochik on guitar and bass and George Ashiotis on keyboards and digital drums (both men sing as well). This dynamic duo manages to sound like a larger group of musicians while giving the production a much-needed jolt of swinging-and-rocking purpose. And they look like they're having a lot of fun, which sets a good example that the rest of the company will hopefully follow.