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A CurtainUp Review
I Spy a Spy
Please! Let him hear my story. How'd I get here? I was 10. Papa's land was stolen so he pays these coyotes to bring us here for a new life. We cross a river, hike 3 weeks in the desert, they take all our money but we make it. What makes me a New Yorker? I raised myself from 14, I do a million jobs, rode every street in the city and I can say 'Get outta my way!' in 15 languages!
Emma Degerstedt and Andrew Mayer (Photo Credit: Russ Rowland)
At a time when there's such turmoil at out borders and disagreement within, it takes a good deal of courage to pen a musical that takes a lighthearted look at immigrations. But Jamie Jackson and So Hee Youn's I Spy a Spy somehow does that with charm and humor.

The show is directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino, who earned just acclaim for his work on Cagney and Desperate Measures. And it features a cast of twelve actors playing an assortment of Hell's Kitchen immigrants and the people who prey on them.

Abdul Makhdoom (Sorab Wadia) is a Pakistani who runs a pizzeria selling Middle Eastern specialties (and gefilte fish kabobs). He is spying on his neighbor, Sunny Park (Hazel Anne Raymundo), proprietress of a Korean deli two doors down, in the hope of finding some reason for putting her out of business. Unfortunately, she's spying on him too, with the same goal. Both employ a deliveryman, Jose Rodriguez (Andrew Mayer), an undocumented Mexican "Dreamer"who assists is secretly helping each spy on the other.

But Jose also has more pressing problems. Prisciliana the coyote who helped him and his family cross the border, wants to get paid for her efforts,/ Since Jose's family has been deported, she expects him to give her an exorbitant amount of money.

Despite his undocumented status, or perhaps because of it, Jose wants to become an actor so he can make his mark on the world. Jose's aspirations lead him to become involved with Alina Orlova (Emma Degerstedt), aka Cheese Blini, the daughter of Cold Borscht, a Russian spy who owns Fluff N Fold, a clothing store located between the pizzeria and the deli.

Cold Borscht wants Cheese Blini to get him the kind of information that will make him Russia's Spy of the Year and ensure he will not be replaced by a computer hacker. Jose wants the attraction he feels for Alina to be mutual.

If by now you've come to the conclusion the plot of I Spy a Spy is somewhat convoluted, you would be entirely correct. And this isn't the half of it. Indeed, the musical clocks in at 2 hours 20 minutes. Even buoyed up by spirited songs with clever lyrics and improbable and unexpected twists involving the mayor, that's way too long.

Fortunately, some of the best numbers come at the end, particularly "Only a Russian,"which could easily be a spoof on Fiddler on the Roof (the Yiddish version is playing just a few blocks downtown). And despite allusions to the vulnerability of immigrants (both legal and undocumented) the play never takes itself too seriously.

What's more Raymundo and Wadia are particularly funny and outrageous in their roles. And Mayer is a likeable romantic hero we never stop rooting for.

So, if you need a break from the troubling stories of real immigrants on the border, you might want to follow the entertaining adventures of fictional immigrants onstage at the Theatre at St. Clement's.
Musical Numbers
Act One
    The American Dream/The Company
    You Will See Me/Jose, Alina
    If I Could Be You/Jose, Alina
    This City's Gone to Hell/Sunny, Abdul
    Is It Just Me/Jose and Company
    Fresh Meat/Alina, Influencers
    You Looked at Me/Jose
Act Two
    Where Love Goes Wrong/Jose, Alina, Sunny, Abdul and Company
    Natural Assets/Prisciliana and her gang
    I Spy a Spy/Jose and Company
    I Spy a Spy/Natural Assets (reprise) Jose, Alina and Company
    So Long/Alina, Female Ensemble
    Only a Russian/Cold Borscht, Beef Stroganoff, Russian Agents
    Finale/The Company

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I Spy a Spy
Book and Lyrics by Jamie Jackson
Book and Music by Sohee Youn
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Cast: Grace Choi (Mrs. Brown), Emma Degerstedt (Alina Orlova), James Donegan (Lenny), Taylor Fields (Rhonda), Andrew Mayer (Jose Rodriguez), Frankie Paparone (Agent Orange), Hazel Anne Raymundo (Sunny Park), Nicole Paloma Sarro (Prisciliana Espinoza), Lawrence E. Street (Mr. Grey), Sorab Wadia (Abdul Makhdoom), Bruce Warren (Cold Borscht), John Wascavage (Beef Stroganoff)
Scenic Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Tyler M. Holland
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: One Dream Sound
Production Stage Manager: Christine Viega
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, with one intermission
Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46 Street
From 7/6/2019; opening 7/18/2019; closing 9/21/19--moved up, now closing 8/10/19
Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday at 2pm & 7pm, Thursday at 2pm & 7pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm
Tickets: $79.99
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 17, 2019

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