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He Says: The Mad Ones A Surprising Shotgun Passenger on the Journey Forward Into Life

He Says: The Mad Ones A Surprising Shotgun Passenger on the Journey Forward Into Life
Ben Moss

Ben Moss

I was looking forward to The Mad Ones, Prospect Theater Company’s new musical currently rocking the 59E59 Theaters to its knees. I had heard rumors of greatness and creativity within Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s musical creation, so I was a tad disappointed when I got an email on the day I was scheduled to review it that one of the actors, Jay Armstrong Johnson (Broadway’s On The Town) wouldn’t be appearing in the production that evening; a one off occurrence. Naturally for a review, I prefer to see the original cast members, but for me to change which performance I attended was more complicating with Thanksgiving almost upon us, than just going forward and living within what the world was handing me.

Ben Moss
Krystina Alabama

Krystina Alabama. Photo by Richard Termine

To be honest, it’s always somewhat of a thrill watching an understudy tossed into a show at the last moment. The theatre is jolted awake with anticipation, but I have always loved how an audience whole heartedly embraces the replacement, even as the wave of disappointment is felt floating through the air of the theater. Years ago, Idina Menzel sat out the second act (the one and only performance she did such a thing, and it was clear in Act I that she was struggling, sick with the flu) of If/Then.  I knew the moment it was announced as we sat back down in our seats for the last act I’d have to return another time to see her and the show from beginning to end, but it was also exciting to watch the understudy grab hold of the reins and deliver the show forward to the end. She was astounding, doing what she did at a moments notice, and what a standing ovation she was rewarded with, by us and her cast mates. It was awesome.

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Krystina Alabama

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Krystina Alabama. Photo by Richard Termine

On this one particular night, the brave replacement, Ben Moss (Vineyard’s Arlington) who only had about 24 hours to prepare, stepped onto the stage to perform the part of Adam, and he was a natural in the part.  Such a professional, I was so impressed. A family emergency I believe is what caused Johnson to call out on such short notice, but as it turns out, much of The Mad Ones is really about just that; fearlessly seizing the day, and driving audaciously forward in search of something new and surprising. Moss did just that. He set aside his fear, just like they preach in this show, and stepped forward into the blinding light of the unknown. He joined this formidable cast on stage, with script in hand and his courage in fourth gear. Together, the four pros all did the impossible with force and unity.
Krystina Alabama, Emma Hunton, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Leah Hocking

Krystina Alabama, Emma Hunton, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Leah Hocking. Photo by Richard Termine

It’s a strong scenario in place in The Mad Ones. This strong musical. directed by Stephen Brackett and choreographed by Alexandra Beller, is not so much about the boy, but really about this one young woman, Sam, strongly portrayed by the mild mannered but vocal powerhouse Krystina Alabado (Broadway’s American Psycho) who finds herself at the proverbial fork in the road of life. The musical starts out simply, pulling us in with the wonderfully engaging “The Girl Who Drove Away”. Sam seems perplexed, knowing more about what she doesn’t want, than what she, and the other two strong women in her life, do want. The inventive memory jumble concocted for her gives us a clue about the sort of confusion ahead and who The Mad Ones might really be referring to. Sam sees her formidable and sure-footed mother, played with spunk and a smart feminist stance by the incredible Leah Hocking (Broadway’s The Last Ship, Billy Elliot) standing at the crossroads pointing forcibly down one road in one particular direction. She’s gunning for Harvard (her alma mater) for when her only daughter graduates from high school this coming spring, but Sam’s best friend and rocking wild child, Kelly, played with all the roughness of a Maureen from Rent (which she played at New World Stages) by the rocking and energetic Emma Hunton (world premiere of Disney’s Freaky Friday) has another plan for her best buddy.
Jay Armstrong Johnson, Krystina Alabado, Leah Hocking

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Krystina Alabado, Leah Hocking. Photo by Richard Termine

Her plan keeps Sam sitting close by, basically in the passenger seat of her car. Kelly wants to drive them into a life where the two stick together at a college close by. Kelly seems to need her (although she might not admit it so easily), as much as Sam needs Kelly’s impulsiveness and aggressiveness. Staying for Sam feels comfortable and safe, living a life connected to Kelly. This life although sounding sweet and easy, is not entirely what Sam dreams about, even if her dream’s details are masked in fog. But life has a way to throw a wrench into Sam’s slow and confused drive forward, and that blow forces her off the path to idle on the road’s shoulder, desperate to see through the fog. And that curve ball, although thrown out pretty early on by the hilariously pushy Kelly, is the engine behind this whole musical journey, and the emotional sentiment that colors the view from the driver’s seat.
Krystina Alabado, Emma Hunton

Krystina Alabado and Emma Hunton in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s The Mad Ones at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Richard Termine

But let’s not forget about the boy, her high school sweetheart Adam. With his love thrown into the swirl, The Mad Ones feels more solid, although slightly less complicated. Even with Moss standing there with the musical’s book in his hands, the setup between these two is emotionally clear. Moss does an incredible job bringing this performance to us with an emotional purity and pointed intention, and even with the one lyric flub, beautifully handled by the actor and greeted with a warm encouragement from the crowd, their love is sweet and pure. Clearly, he is not daring enough for the perplexed Sam. We all know this from the beginning, but Moss gives Adam just the right amount of lovable affectations that we do secretly cheer for him, even knowing he’s not the right shot-gun passenger for Sam to drive away with.
The premise is striking and very uniquely investigated within the smart book and songs by this fantastic writing team (musical director: Paul Strobe). The numbers are powerful and fantastically crafted and performed, but the intricate details become a bit foggy as the piece accelerates forward. The songs, although majestically sung start to blend into one another, losing the distinction of meaning and purpose between them. The two females at the helm, and also a mother that can certainly match their vocal chops, do their best selling song after song but the unique matter in which they are trying to explore beyond the one conflict doesn’t register. There doesn’t feel like a building or any side roads taken. The two young women sing of living and driving down roads you never have traveled down before, and the two are incredible but the songs start to sound familiar, a bit like a slice of Rent or Next to Normal have floated in on the airwaves of the car radio. Both not terrible shows to be compared to, but it starts to sound like a form of denial. Maybe, if they keep singing the same song over and over again, Sam wouldn’t have to make any decision about her future, and that impending phone call, the one we hear about that wakes Sam up, will never need to be answered.
Kelly wants life with no road maps spread out before them, but when the choices are clearly only Sam’s to make, some sort of map will eventually have to be created. I wish Kerrigan and Lowdermilk had envisioned a slightly more detailed map for the journey they forged for us. The team needed to plan out a few alternate roadside stops constructed with a different sound or a more nuanced feeling. With a few more creative rest stops and landmarks to see along their highway. With those side steps, a greater and far more interesting drive would have been given to us. As written, it’s still an impressive venture and one we were glad to go on.  This writing team is definitely one to watch, and let’s give it up one more time for the brave Mr. Moss, who so miraculously joined this magnificently gifted cast on their journey to the future.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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