Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"Monica: the Musical"
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Manhattan
What’s a nice Jewish girl doing in a musical satire? For that matter, what was a nice Jewish girl doing in the Oval Office during the 90s? But was she a nice Jewish girl—simply needy and looking for love in the wrong places—or just the opposite?
We have the answers—or a stab at the answers—off-Broadway, in a show that turns out to be one of the highlights of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The theater world has taken on Monica and her confreres in “Monica: the Musical,” turning the Sex Scandal of the Century into a hilarious, hip, sharply-satirical show.
The Blau brothers (composer Adam and lyricist/writer Daniel) have taken the sorry tale which brought down President William Jefferson Clinton and turned it into a delicious spoof. Every one gets skewered in this take-no-prisoners piece. Bill, Hilary, Vernon Jordan, George Stephanopoulos, Janet Reno, Ken Starr, Betty Currie, Linda Tripp are all put through the wringer and hung out to dry. The only one who gets some sympathy is Monica (which rhymes with Hanukah, we’re told). She is seen as a lonely, naïve, confused, stupid, and slightly overweight—a sympathetic character who is betrayed by every one. And her fondest dreams are shattered. “We’ll marry after these four years,” she muses, “and I’ll be Mrs. Monica Rodham Clinton!”
Ultimately, this show is just good fun—not to be taken seriously. But what makes it theater of a high order is the work of the Blau brothers (with book and lyrics which Daniel Blau co-wrote with Tracy Potochnik). The production itself is on the same level. Though staged in a rickety little theater (once the home of the now-defunct American Jewish Theatre), where viewers must peer around poles to see the stage, “Monica” surmounts the difficulties.
In fact, “Monica” turns out to be the sleeper of the season, the most professional show in this current music theater festival. Director/choreographer Casey Hushion keeps it all going at a non-stop pace. And Hushion is blessed with players, who, for the most part, give flawless performances. It is difficult to single out stars in this galaxy, but several players are particularly worthy of mention: Megan Lawrence and Duke Lafoon as the Presidential couple are memorable, Charlie Pollock is absolutely zany as the obsessed Ken Starr, and Monica herself is deliciously portrayed by Christine DiGiallonardo.
A must-see show. And though ”Monica” has only a short run in this Festival, one need not fear. This clever musical is bound to have a future life. And we are certain to hear more of the gifted Blau brothers and their colleagues. They may well be the Gershwin brothers of the future.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 22, 2005