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A CurtainUp Review

The Green Heart

When I interviewed Rusty Magee, the composer/lyricist of The Green Heart last month (Rusty Magee Interview) he explained that it was his mission to put "the fun back into musical comedy." Now that I've seen what he aptly described as "musical black comedy, romantic thrillre" I can report that he's admirably succeeded in doing just that. The Green Heart is a clever, campy and tuneful interpretation of Jack Ritchie's short story about a playboy who, having squandered his fortune, plots to marry an eccentric millionaire botanist. Magee's music is smart and jazzy. Charles Busch's book is dark, filled-to-the-brim with jokes and pungent figures of speech (i.e. a millionaire's last will is "as tight as a brand-new face lift" and a lawyer whose such a cold fish that he could be "served cold with dill sauce"). The book and music work well enough together to make one hope that this is the start of a fruitful collaboration.

It's a small show, but not too small, (there's a 13-member cast and a 5-piece orchestra and in a real orchestra pit not too small)). It's stylishly staged with a pull down curtain which colorfully sums up the show's thematic elements and more than half a dozen terrific set changes by the always clever James Noone. The scene when Henrietta discovers the heart-shaped leaf of the title, and a bed of flowers rains onto the stage is particularly impressive. Yet nothing ever screams tourist trade musical. Noone's sets are nicely underscored by Robert Mackintosh's costumes. I particularly liked the browns and blacks and greys in the haberdashery store scene and Henrietta's wonderfully silly inside-out party gown with its shoulder pads flapping on her shoulders like goofy wings. Like another Off-Broadway musical of a few seasons ago, Das Barbecu, you will come away amazed at how elaborately realized a big-little musical like this can be. And how much fun.

While there is some dancing, The Green Heart is essentially a musical play. Joey McKneely's contribution-- (listed as musical staging, rather than choreography)-- is minor compared to that of Busch, Magee and, of course, the cast members, most of whom deserve the highest praise

Karen Trott plays the endearingly eccentric Henrietta. Her straightforward approach adds a note of poignancy amid the generally punched-up acting of everyone else. He singing voice is clear and strong. David Andrew MacDonald has all the requirements for a musical's leading man--handsome to look at and listen to. He moves through playboy William Graham's redemption from "empty vessel" to "green heart" with persuasive panache. He's a far cry from Walter Matthau who starred in a long-ago non-musical film (The New Leaf), based on the same story. >

Alison Fraser out-Trumps Ivana (and ZsaZsa) as Graham's much-married, greedy mistress Uta. She makes the most of her many one-liners (though fans who remember her from Romance/Romance and My Secret Garden might wish for more than one solo. The second comic villainess, Ruth Williamson is also wonderfully over-the-top as the boozy housekeeper Mrs. Tragger. I would have preferred the male villain of the piece, the slimy lawyer McPherson, to have been played by an actor who didn't have to rely on a bit of shtik like a slipping toupee to get his laughs. In this three-legged stool of comicbaddies, he is the lame leg. The rest of the ensemble ably handles the multiple roles of mourners, party guests, Island singers and house servants

Those who love camp generally and Charles Busch as a performer as well as writer will probably visualize him playing all the female parts--or at least, Mrs. Tragger. While there are some who may not appreciate his darkly comic sensibility, using the night-before-the-official opening performance I attended as an audience reaction barometer, most who come will get and enjoy the show's campyness.

While another Off-Broadway musical Violet was unable to find a long-term home, despite generally good reviews, The Green Heart is happily ensconced at a theater large enough to accommodate fair-sized audiences for a decent run. That's provided not too many critics water this leaf with vitriol and word of mouth will, to paraphrase the lovely title song "give this heart a chance to grow." (It would be nice if the people in charge could cut a quick promotional demo cassette of it).
THE GREEN HEART Book, (based on the short story by Jack Ritchie), by Charles Bush
Music & lyrics by Rusty Magee
Starring David Andrew MacDonald, Karen Trott, Alison Fraser
Directed by Kenneth Elliott
Opening date 4/09; closing 5/04/97

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