The Elephant Man - The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 15, 2009
For theatergoers who missed it during its initial run a decade ago, The Elephant Man – The Musical, Jeff Hylton, Tim Werenko, and Paul Jones's wickedly funny send-up of musical theatre, is back to stun audiences with its audacious shamelessness. The enthusiastic new revival from No.11 Productions, a rising young company with talent and energy to burn, embraces the show's loony irreverence while tackling it to the ground. And while they occasionally miss their mark, these upstarts still have enough going for them to pull off a consistently enjoyable evening.
If a musical based on the life of the infamously deformed John Merrick sounds tasteless and demented, allow me to count the ways. The Elephant Man's daffy premise centers on an alternate history in which Merrick dreams of being a musical theatre star. Aided and abetted by Dr. James Lipscomb, whose tarnished reputation could use a polish, his whip smart (and sexy) assistant Jessica Curvey, who lives in fear of the male genitalia, and Presby Raincoat, an outgoing producer who smells a hit, Merrick leaves his dreary sideshow cage behind for the bright lights of Broadway. After all, as Presby declares in one of the show's signature numbers, "Ever'body wants their life to be a musical."
Hylton, Werenko, and Jones pull out all the stops both sending up and paying tribute to musicals. They spoof the angsty trials and tribulations of trying to become a star while loading The Elephant Man with enough insider references (from classics like Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and Jesus Christ Superstar, to name a scant few) to sink the Titanic. Hylton and Werenko's book and lyrics display a febrile wit that stops at nothing for an enjoyably cheap laugh, like the following moment in which Merrick succinctly expresses his more-than-platonic feelings for Jessica by singing...
Hot snatch like that will never let
Put it in 'em
...set against one of Jones and Hylton's lovely melodies. The constant, unlikely juxtaposition of the two just makes the laughs explode that much bigger and louder. There are literally dozens of moments like that all throughout The Elephant Man.
Director Julie Congress and choreographer Simon Gunner both understand the paradigms being sent up and know how to maximize the script's inherent humor. And the energetic cast—which features the talented quartet of Ryan Emmons, Haley Greenstein, Roger Mulligan, and Ira Sargent—throws themselves into the proceedings with unabashed gusto. Unfortunately, they also toss away too many jokes either because of low vocal volume or garbled pronunciation, which is a shame since they are otherwise on point.
Despite the production's drawbacks there's still plenty to enjoy, particularly the inspired and daffy way The Elephant Man invokes what a possible coupling between Forbidden Broadway and vintage Mel Brooks might look like. If you like your comedy fast and loose, and your musical theatre irreverent and tuneful, this is the show for you. No.11 Productions displays a lot of spunk and bravery with this project, which is reason enough in my book for audiences to check out this nascent company.