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A CurtainUp Review
ImPerfect Chemistry

Sara Schmidt, Brooks Ashmanskas,
Deidre Lovejoy (Photo: Carol Rosegg )
Unlike some, I'm not ready to concede that the American musical has gone to hell in a hand basket. That's why my heart skips a hopeful beat whenever I hear about a brand-new musical -- especially if it's a small production that can't bank on stagecraft razzle dazzle to sustain it.

The last two weeks have been tough test for my enduring optimism, with openings of two intriguing sounding musical comedies to enliven the beleaguered genre. First came the Berkshire Theatre Festival's world premiere of a show that announced its determination to combine the return of the old-fashioned, book musical and a historically relevant event, the 1940 New York World Fair. Despite some nice scenic touches and some good performances, Say Yes! didn't come close to matching the luster of the golden oldies of the musical stage, and CurtainUp's review was not an isolated thumbs down (Our Review).

This week we headed back to New York to catch a press performance of another intimate new book musical. To put the bad news up front with an obvious but irresistible take on the title, ImPerfect Chemistry is decidedly imperfect. It's a game enough little show with an array of talented performers and a fun concept:

Adam and Eve are recast as two young geneticists. God is a golf crazy philanthropist named Dr. Goodman (that's as in Good, naturally!) who'd rather that they concentrate on recreation than creating things as likely to be a curse than a blessing. The apple in Goodman's Avalon is a "don't touch" computer. The techno-paradise manager is the serpent who, with the key to the forbidden computer, lures the young couple into the wicked business world where their miraculous cure for baldness not only grows hair, but takes a hairy turn towards de-evolution.

The eight-member cast can't be faulted for not trying hard to make it all work. John Jellison throws himself enthusiastically into the double role of the god-like, golfing Dr. Goodman as well as a Russian with a taste for money. Brooks Ashmanskas mines the aptly named Harry Lizzarde for every possible laugh. Ken Barnett and Amanda Watkins are nicely paired as the young geneticists.

Director-choreographer John Ruocco manages to add some dance numbers which, given the size of the Minetta Lane stage, is quite an achievement. Add Rob Odorisio's set centerpiece, a giant multi-functional high-tech rotating cube (think the Borg space ship in Star Trek!) and it would seem as if the chemistry should be just right. So what's wrong?

For starters, it's all too broad and obvious -- the double entendre names, Eve-the-geneticist chewing on an apple as Lizzarde dangles the key to the computer before her, don't ask! Albert M. Tapper's music, which tries to cover all bases (e.g., Dr. Goodman's ode to golf becomes a big gospel number) is melodic enough but consistently unmemorable; ditto for James Racheff's lyrics. The persistent use of strobe lights is more irritating than exciting.

With the flurry of plays with science backgrounds, and several of them big hits (e.g.: Copenhagen and Proof), it was only a matter of time for science to show up in a musical. Sad to say, ImPerfect Chemistry is unlikely to turn Racheff and Tapper into the Rogers and Hammerstein of the hi-tech, sci-fi musical.

Book and lyrics by James Racheff
Story and music by Albert M. Tapper
Directed and choreographed by John Ruocco
Cast (in order of appearance): John Jellison (first as Dr. Goodman, later as Dr. Bubinski), Brooks Ashmanskas, Ken Barnett, Amanda Watkins; Ensemble: Joel Carlton, Michael Greenwood, Deidre Lovejoy, Sara Schmidt
Set Design: Rob Odorisio
Lighting Design: John-Paul Szczepanski
Costume Design: Curtis Hay
Sound Design: Robert Kaplowitz
Musical drection, vocal arrangements, orchestrations: August Eriksmoen
Running time: 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission
Minetta Lane, 18 Minetta Lane (Off 6th Av., betw. W. 3rd and Bleeker Sts), 307-4100
8/08/2000; opening 8/24/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 8/22 performance

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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