Monday, August 8, 2011

The Devil and Daisy Jane

During the summer, The Actors Co-op offers what they call Co-op Too! productions, in addition to their regular subscriber season. These shows are usually done with limited production values for the purpose of developing new work, like last year’s highly successful new musical Trails.

The newest work on this year’s series is Lisa Marinacci’s The Devil and Daisy Jane, which began its journey in 2004 and is part of the 2011 Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals. Unlike Trails, which was presented last summer in the Co-op’s smaller theatre, The Devil and Daisy Jane has bumped up the production values and appears in the larger Crossley Terrace Theatre with costumes, scenery, props, video projections (a terrific series of past and present pop icons), and a 4-piece band. The challenge is, when you add all of those elements and call it a fully staged production, you raise the audience’s expectations, and this musical is one that still needs further development.

The cast on opening night was at the mercy of an out of control sound system that found body mics going out frequently and delivering as much static and overmodulated vocals as actual sound – quite a distraction when you have great musicians like Brent Crayon (keyboards), Chris Mello (guitar), Oliver Steinberg (bass) and Jim Hardiman (drums) backing up some talented singers.

To lose any of pop diva Katherine Malak’s vocals, for example, is a shame because she easily rocks the house as tough as nails rocker Zora and oozes sex in some physically comical ways. Kyle Nudo as Bobby Shrub has a showstopping number in hell, complete with harmonica, that he absolutely makes the most of, and backup singers Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Jayme Lake, and Gina D’Acciaro (as an in your face home girl who made me laugh out loud) added color to an otherwise predictable story.

The musical follows Daisy (Marinacci), a nice girl who signs her soul away to the devil (Anthony Manough) for fame as a singer, dumping her nice boyfriend (Harley Jay) and other half of her nice singing duo in the process. I’m not exactly sure why the urgency to sign her life away because she seems like a very down to earth, optimistic person, even though the duo wasn’t chosen to go further in the “America’s Next Super Pop Star” competition. I guess the sight of a homeless man on the subway is enough to make her think she’ll end up homeless one day too (?).

Once she’s signed on to the devil’s roster, she replaces the reigning ill-tempered pop queen Zora, and by the beginning of Act II has turned, of course, into the very thing she hated. She decides she wants to go back to her old life and challenges the devil to a singing competition for her soul. The audience votes by applause, and believe me, you'll only need one guess who wins. Here’s a hint – it’s not the devil, even though he brings all the evangelist reverence he can muster, terrific vocals, and is flanked by a full Gospel choir.

Manough’s songs are some of the finest in the show, but puzzling to me was the placement of “Sign On The Dotted Line,” his best number of the night sung after everyone else has taken their curtain call. Don’t get me wrong, he’s the only one on stage and it is terrific, but anticlimactic after the others’ bows.

Marinacci, who plays leading character Daisy, has written music & lyrics for the show, and story & book are credited to Marinacci and Jeremy Lewit. Unfortunately, I had a hard time engaging with the story because I didn’t feel that such a nice girl would sign on the dotted line and dump her boyfriend without a bigger reason – to save his life perhaps, or because something horrible will happen if she doesn’t maybe.... She didn’t appear to be desperate so I missed the driving reason why she’d throw away her life.

And a musical made up of pop songs - no matter how fun or how many great gimmicks - also starts to feel empty when they don't move the story forward. After you hear the hook, what else is there? That’s just my two cents though. Much of the audience seemed not to notice any of my concerns and tickets are selling well for the show. To each his own.

Click Here for tickets and more information. The Devil and Daisy Jane is part of the Fourth Annual Festival of New American Musicals.

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