The heroine of the new “Musicals Suck, the Musical” isn’t exactly a generic, plucky leading lady. She is often grumpy, she smokes and she dislikes musicals. More to the point, she hates every aspect of musical theater, so much that it threatens to drive a wedge into her love life.
That’s the premise of the world-premiere musical at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, playing through June 30. It’s not fully developed yet, but “Musicals Suck” has some wonderful moments.
Sydney (Whittney Millsap) is a young woman who as a child had an unpleasant moment with the grown-ups around her during a musical production. The bad memories have lingered and left mental scars. A few decades later, she’s happy with her low-key boyfriend Charles (Z Gillispie), with whom she works, and finds out through office talk that he wants to propose to her that night. He’s a musical junkie, though, and their planned evening is framed around a musical — a three-and-a-half-hour one. Sydney would rather eat nails.
Before the show begins, Sydney encounters a mysterious, heavily accented Gypsy (Karen Cassady) who puts a spell on her. Sydney wakes up the next morning and can’t remember anything from the previous night. Suddenly, everything around her turns into a musical. A blasé moment at the office, for instance, turns into a Bob Fosse production number, complete with jazz hands, top hats and skimpy outfits.
“Musicals Suck” is directed by Kevin Gillese, who is also the theater’s artistic director, and is written by Gillese and Travis Sharp, with music by Eric Frampton. One of its charms is the way its writers announce to the audience the rules and conventions of musical theater — and then follow up on them. A love triangle has to be involved, of course. Characters then have to behave in certain ways, and a meaningless song always follows the intermission. A Simon Pegg joke scores, too.
The concept is rich in potential, but “Musicals Suck” never quite peaks. At times it feels like an improv sketch that has never been broadened much. Many of the musical numbers have spark and goofy choreography, but others feel rather flat. The voices are decent but not overwhelming, though ironically that fits into the convention of this non-musical musical.
Millsap has a hard time making Sydney a strong center, even when the character loses her fears and bursts into song and dance. Luckily, the rest of the cast is quite likable, and a few are razor-sharp. Charles’ and Sydney’s boss, Darcy, is played by Gina Rickicki, who goes gleefully over the top when she sees that her romantic window of opportunity with Charles might be opening. Cassady’s Gypsy is comic gold, too. The actress has immaculate comic timing and effortlessly steals her scenes.
If this seems a little outside of Dad’s Garage’s typical fare, it is, but it retains the silly, anarchist tone the company is known for.
At a mere 75 minutes, “Musicals Suck” does not wear out its welcome. If anything, it leaves us wanting more — as a musical, a satire and a comedy. But it’s hard to dislike a production in which the entire ensemble breaks out into a joyous closing number with lyrics like “With expectations high above, / There comes a downward swoosh. / It’s fine to set your sights above, / Just don’t be such a douche.”
You won’t find lyrics like those in “Les Miserables.”