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A CurtainUp Review

By Amanda Cooper

My minutes are unlimited, I'm feeling so uninhibited.
Set in our present day, Cellphones a rock musical has a fictitious premise. Placing eleven strangers in an early morning line on Central Park's Great Lawn, this musical has created a Homeland Security Recruiting Booth where full-time government jobs can be obtained by a limited number of individuals of sound mind and body. All these line-waiting strangers are kooky and colorful, and can spit out entertaining insults directed at each other. Unfortunately, there is little else to this musical. Instead of providing insight into our current Homeland Security and government concerns, the show attempts to tackle all social and political discourse -- and over a surprisingly slow two hours.

The nineteen songs are the meat here. Unfortunately it is lean and overcooked. They're meant to blow open some aspect of one of the eleven characters and reveal a pertinent social issue. The brief bits of dialogue are mere buffers between numbers, adding perhaps a laugh and serving as an awkward segue into the next number.

Dotty (a hoarse Verna Hampton) is a soccer mom who carries the stresses of her kids' games and has become an at-home control freak. Jody (a lively, solid Sheena Marie Oritz trapped in an annoying character) is a sixteen year-old white girl who may seem to have it all, but may snap any minute -- either from the pills she pours down her throat or from the overflow of teen queen media. Vid (an earnest and endearing Max Ferguson) is a wannabe documentary filmmaker, who is overcome with awe for the flashy, revealing work of Michael Moore. And of course one cannot forget Always Michael, the young, Michael Jackson obsessed fan who chooses to personify his hero at all times (an honorable impersonation by Jeremy Ladieri).

There is also the token lesbian, a white Rastafarian, an unexpectedly-educated young black man, and a handful of others, each with a song or two to call their own. This is Hair, but less successfully so. The 60s portrayed in Hair was messy and loving, scary and new; the new millennium in Cellphones can't seem to decide what it is, or even if it wants to be taken seriously. Is Matt Williams' choreography purposefully cheesy? Are we supposed to laugh at William Electric Black and Joel Diamond's overly repetitious choruses?

The most successful scene of the evening was Blade's song "Wanna have a Gun" about why she wanted to join Homeland Security. In it, a weak-voiced Judith Griegossies, who is on rollerblades throughout, sings about her love for the NRA, and her craving for that piece of metal power. The lyrics did not preach, and the up-tempo music played smartly against the violent content.

In case you're wondering why is this musical called Cellphones -- many of the characters use them to keep in touch with their non line-waiting lives. But more importantly, the shtickiest of planned shticks has audience members receiving calls on their own cellphones from the stage and awkwardly cajoled into a random conversation with an onstage character. These improv moments served no purpose for the production, but then again, the production itself did not seem to achieve any specific goal, either. Whatever messages writer/director Black wanted to convey became lost in the mess and mass of it all.

Cellphones a rock musical
Written and Directed by William Electric Black
Music by William Electric Black & Joel Diamond Choreography by Matt Williams
Cast: Sheena Marie Oritz, Jeremy Ladieri, Peter Philip Clarke, Max Ferguson, Nathan I. Brisby, Andrew Daphnis, Chris Brady, Emily Parker, Verna Hampton, Kat Yew, Judith Griegossies and Raquel Jordan.
Set and Lighting Design by Tom Lee
Costumes by Lisa Geiger
Sound by Andrew Fremont-Smith
Running time 90 minutes, no intermission
Band members: Bob Desjardins (Bass), Mitch Margold (Keyboards), Jim Mussen (Drums).
La Mama, ETC, The Annex Theatre, 74A East 4th Street between 2nd ave and Bowery. 212-475-7710
From 1/27/05 to 2/13/05
Thursdays - Sundays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:30pm
Tickets are $20
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper/b> based on January 30th, 2005 performance.

Musical Numbers
  • Turn Your Cellphones On (The Ensemble)
  • Soccer Mom (Dotty and Ensemble)
  • Supersized (Richie and Ensemble)
  • Teenage White Girls (Jody, Honey, Blade, Aja, Roxie and Ensemble)
  • Always Michael (Always Michael and Ensemble)
  • Wanna Have A Gun (Blade and Ensemble)
  • Enron-Run (Beat and Ensemble)
  • Girlie Man (Homeland Commander and Ensemble)
  • My Jigga (Neon and Ensemble)
  • Pornography (Dotty and Ensemble)
  • Page Six (Roxie and Ensemble)
  • Starbucks Baby (Richie and Ensemble)
  • Married (Honey and Ensemble)
  • Michael Moore (Vid and Ensemble)
  • Oil March (Ensemble)
  • Thank You, America(Aja and Ensemble)
  • Cellphones (Ensemble)
  • Internet Kid (Blade, Neon, Richie, Roxie and Ensemble)
  • WMD/Orange Alert (Jody, Homeland Commander and Ensemble)
  • Turn Your Cellphones On Reprise (Ensemble)
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