Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mischief Review

ICCT - Man with a Load of Mischief is not a well-known musical. Less than ardent fans of musical theatre will be hard-pressed to so much as recognize any of its redundant ditties, let alone name one. And that is precisely the charm and appeal of ICCT’s current production. Don’t get me wrong; I like Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man, Cabaret, The Fantasticks, and Oklahoma! as much as the next guy, but I also like experiencing new and varied things—as online court records can attest.

Putting on lesser-known musicals at the community theatre level, however, can be quite the difficult undertaking. Lack of interest, smaller budgets, and poor audition turnouts can all become massive nails in any small production’s coffin. That goes double for musicals like Man with a Load of Mischief (or “MwaLoM,” as I will hereafter be referring to it (…which has the dual attraction of being both faster to write and a fun noise to make (…go ahead and try it (…no, really, try it (…seriously, I’ll wait (…see?))))).

MwaLoM is the creation of John Clifton (music & lyrics) and Ben Tarver (book & lyrics). It premiered off-Broadway in 1966, has since seen three New York revivals, and is directed this time around by retired Iowa City resident David Evans. In the apparent labor of love that is his production of MwaLoM, Evans uses the familiar ICCT theatre space adequately, utilizing a tastefully austere set fabricated by Rich Riggleman and painted by Evie Stanske. Evans’ solitary daring gambit in this otherwise textbook production was an upstage center placement of the orchestra. It pays off. The orchestra fades from overt distraction to unobtrusive set piece by the conclusion of the first song, allowing the music to feel like an inextricable part of the show instead of just choreographed noise being made by an ancillary group of musicians off to the left.

I only wish similar glowing praise could be extended to the performances. Despite the fact that there are three romances taking place in this story, there exist zero instances of chemistry. Many of the kisses resembled preschool playground puckering practice instead of lusciously lascivious lip locking lustiness. Moreover, there were more than a handful of noticeable dropped lines during Sunday’s matinee, a couple of those in the form of hummed or out-of-place song verses. Whereas that occurrence might be forgivable on a jittery opening night (or even the day after a horrendously successful cast party), it is unacceptable for the third show in as many days.

That is not to say the performances are totally lacking. On the contrary, Howard Meadows dutifully portrays the lackadaisical and uncomely ‘Innkeeper’ with laudable assistance from the gifted Mary Haaf (Innkeeper’s Wife). While Kathy McDonald’s singing voice seems to occasionally falter in the role of ‘Lady,’ she is nevertheless consistently spot-on in translating her character’s discontent with MwaLoM’s central themes and conflicts. In addition, John Croschek makes a dandy dandy as ‘Lord,’ and Michelle Wacha’s (Maid to the Lady) stage presence, energy, and powerful voice highlight the scenes in which she appears. Finally, actor Ken Van Egdon (Servant to the Lord) dependably carries the majority of his ensemble scenes with a masterful mix of magnificent enunciation, appropriately detached emotion, reliable comedic timing, and distinctive lyrical clarity. I would enjoy seeing more of this talented ICCT newcomer in future community performances.

Long review short: MwaLoM is guaranteed to surprise you, if only because you won’t know what to expect. It’s worth a look if you like musicals or shows you’ve never seen before.

--Andrew R. Juhl

Andrew R. Juhl is an area author and director. He has been recently active with both the City Circle Acting Company of Coralville and Rage Theatrics.

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