Review by Danny Gaisin
A sure way for a playwright to attract attention is to make his or her subject matter relevant. DIVORCE PARTY, The musical does so – in spades. Our family has experienced divorces, males leaving the marriage for a male partnership, and especially, realize the importance of true camaraderie and support.
Mark Schwartz is a Broadway luminary with multiple Tony’s™ to his credit. Amy Botwinick is renowned for her series of ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Jay Falzone is a multi-faceted writer; lyricist & choreographer. This triumvirate have created a triumphant (sorry, couldn’t help myself) ode to indomitability and regeneration after a demoralizing and unexpected social upheaval.
All this is done with innovative direction; clever lyrics and an impressively talented cast. Even the more obvious bits of shtick had this particular critic giggling.
The writing team use the vehicle of incorporating familiar and popular tunes, BUT with new and appropriate lyrics. The cleverness and applicable message the new words express certainly work, but come with a price. Like those old Stan Freberg parodies; oftimes the novel libretti mentally replace the originals. For this scribe, heretofore I’m sure that the Harry Belafonte theme will now be “Gay-O”; and ‘HAIR’ will no longer refer to those tresses worn by the Flower Children of the sixties. Certainly, the ‘Damn Yankees’ aria about Hernando’s Hideaway’s chorus ‘OLÉ” is sure to be replaced by an emphatic ‘Oy Vey!’ Other spoofs are based on ‘Favorite Things’; My Hyman’s Back’; a big chorus number based on the Garland movie Harvey Girls theme- ‘Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe’; and my personal favorite – “Gay guys are a girl’s best Friend. Tiffany’s – beware! & Harry Winston must be spinning in his grave!
Storyline: – Linda’s newly divorced. Tub ice cream and forgoing of personal hygiene is her new pattern. Obviously, her sense of self-esteem has bottomed out. Her sister; a cousin and a close friend drop in to commiserate and throw her a surprise divorce party, including special gifts. Linda is portrayed by Alison J. Palmer and she manifests all the angst that accompanies such a drastic change in status. Alison Somerville is her sister, (funny, I thought LAST names denoted sibling Dom) and she epitomizes the successful’ altogether’ type. Jody Butler’s lesbian ‘Courtney’ is literally & figuratively a ‘stand-out’ and the kind of cousin whose liberated attitudes can be dangerously influential. Closing the quartet is Jewell Blackman, more about her later.
All of the ladies possess fabulous voices and an instinctive sense of comedic timing. They dance up a storm during the big numbers and their synchronicity is faultless. Director Falzone has wisely let his charges have a somewhat loose rein and aspects of their own personalities recur in their individual portrayals. He has instilled a prudent sense of timing that makes both the acting and the dialogue seem reasonable and almost credible, albeit exaggerated. The scene where his actresses imitate Anthony Bastianon’s musicians on the broom; ironing board; mop and laundry hamper is visually delicious and perfectly coordinated.
Back to Ms. Blackman. The cast is non-pareil, but this lady is strikingly conspicuous not only for her solos but in the quartet & quintet numbers as well. Her animated face; charismatic expressions and especially her body language underscore every emotion she’s trying to project. She’d actually steal the show were it not for Scott Ahearn. He’s all of the ladies’ gifts and is a hoot in every one of his characterizations. Naturally, Falzone has made the depictions inflated, but Ahearn never crosses the line into hamminess. Occasionally, actors are required to expose their inner essences for a role. He does this and more.
Divorce Party, the musical is more than just fluff. There are moments of insightful anguish and realistic depictions of the traumas women endure when their lives are upturned. The creative trio makes this even more evident with some dramatic yet ironic denouements.
Caveat* DIVORCE PARTY, the MUSICAL (The hilarious journey to hell…and back) [Full title], is R-rated adult entertainment and may even make some mature individuals uncomfortable. The ‘BOB’ segment had this writer twitching as did the tray-load of ‘special massage’ items. My crystal ball tells me that DPtM etc, is a sure-fire hit and certainly a Do Not Miss theatre experience. We foretold that Stage West’s ‘VIAGARA FALLS’ was destined for success and it went on to Broadway. Same forecast here.
Between now and November 25th, get your friends/family together; enjoy the newly modified STAGE WEST Buffet; laugh and share moments of empathy with the cast… WE DID!