Tamarie Cooper spoofs her age in new musical
With each summer's new installment inTamarie Cooper's series of zany, freewheeling, original musicals based on her own life and preoccupations, only two real questions arise:
Just how crazy do Cooper and her anything-goes crew get this time? and just how funny, compared to past outings, is this year's show?
In both regards, "Tamarie Cooper's Old as Hell" registers about midway on the Cooper-meter. She and her company get pretty crazy in the production's whacked-out skits and number, but not nearly so crazy as they sometimes have. The show is pretty funny, pretty often, but more chuckle- than guffaw-inducing, and scoring less consistently than in the most hilarious of Cooper's comic carnivals.
Let's face it, every show in an annual series can't be the best ever.
This one starts promisingly, with the usual, insanely upbeat, formula opening number – tongue-in-cheekily titled "It's the Opening Number." No sooner has Cooper begun her spoken introduction than two businesslike intruders storm on stage and insist that, at 42, she's gotten too old to play herself.
"Who are you," she asks, "the theater police?" Turns out they are.
So an ambitious youngster assumes the star role, and Cooper finds herself ignominiously ousted from her own show. Naturally, she vows to fight back – to prove herself still young and relevant. The rest of the show depicts her attempts, as she tries to break into the oh-so-young and oh-so-hip crowd, negotiates the pitfalls of social media both trendy and passe, braves Internet trolls who spew only negativity and encounters the specter of Death, who offers a preview of the unwanted companions she'll acquire as she grows still older. Senility, Incontinence and the rest are embodied as wacky characters, with uneven results.
As noted, the premise is cute and, certainly for boomers, rings with a rightness in our youth-obsessed society. But the writing is uneven – both the script by Patrick Reynolds and the lyrics, variously by Cooper, Reynolds,Miriam Daly and Miki Johnson. There's funny stuff, to be sure. But several of the skits seem to circle around the same mildly amusing point without quite scoring a comic bull's eye. Given that the songs in such an enterprise are meant chiefly for immediate comic impact, not for the ages, Daly's music is serviceable and sometimes more interesting than the norm. Lyric-wise, at least one of the eight numbers ("Just Take a Look at My Face") is a near-total misfire, while others boast a funny title line but simply repeat, rather than develop it.
Part of the problem may be that some topics may be too grim for even Cooper and the gang to make them funny – especially in the sequence kidding the infirmities of advanced age. Individual response here may depend on how much time one has spent playing caretaker. Even those of us who subscribe to the "anything can be a source of comedy" doctrine, some area usually prompts an "except that!" disclaimer.
Cooper remains funny as ever, plying her defining, seemingly incongruous blend of wry self-deprecation and sly self-aggrandizement. Her falling-down-stairs-in-slow-motion routine is a mini-masterpiece of inspired nonsense. She also has directed the antics with speed, punch and amusing business. The game cast performs her lively, spoof-y choreography with energy and precision.
As always, Kyle Sturdivant erupts with mad intensity in several explosively funny character bits. Sean Patrick Judge and Noel Bowers are spot-on in their sober deadpan as theater police Mike and Bob. Jessica Janes is a hoot as Young Tamarie, horrified to see what she will become. DeWitt Gravink, Xzavien Hollins and Elissa Levittare among many others who contribute standout moments.
The band is good, the costumes (by Cooper and Kelly Switzer) are fine, if nowhere near as outrageously inventive as in past outings. The key design contribution is Ryan McGettigan's nifty set, which fairly screams "1950s lounge act."
At any show whose vibe is more that of a rollicking party than a play, a critic always feels a bit out of place, anyway. Might as well be the society reporter covering a frat-house keg party. Given Htown's cult following of Cooper's shows, fans likely will just enjoy the truly funny stuff and make allowances for the rest.