by Adam Cohen
Before the show, Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil, you face the underbelly of Hollywood – literally with James Fenton’s back of the famed Hollywood sign – rusted and moldy. This sets the scene perfectly. If you’ve ever wondered how Matthew McConaughey got his start – destined to be an armadillo farmer in Texas – and won an Academy Award – Emilie Landmann (book), Jonathan Quesenberry (Music) and Carrie Morgan (Lyrics) hysterically answer that and more questions for us. With as high a joke ratio as Book of Mormon – this fun show hits all its marks with hysterical lyrics and book that demand repeat viewing given the potential to miss due to audience laugher.
This witty satire posits that McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) sells his soul so he can win an Oscar to Mephistopheles (Lesli Margherita) despite the protests of his grade school friend/agent Penny (Jennifer Blood) and fellow actor/best friend Woody (Max Crumm). After years of lax romantic comedies (most of which are referenced) and being bumped from talk shows for an animal act, the bongo playing, sandal wearing, slacker actor years for serious roles and he’s got just the idea playing a Nazi hating orphan rescuer. The devil has other ideas and scripts – including the Texas Buyer’s Club.
Mining a rich vein for satire is a tough road but thanks to expert performances from Wilcox, Margherita, Blood, Crumm, and the pert, beautifully harmonic chorus – this show scores. The songs cleverly throw in every aspect of McConaughey’s career including his car ads, stoner demeanor, and prior film work. Margherita has a beautiful powerful singing voice, tremendous facials, and vamps hysterically swiping on a phone. Crumm and Blood are great best friends seeking legitimacy on their own terms without selling their souls. Wilcox captures McConaughey’s fierce laconic beat poet/stoner vibe. Cameisha Cotton, Koh Mochizuki, Frankie Shin, Nicole Vande Zande, and Betty Weinberger, Riza Takahashi, round out the cast as the ensemble of vitriolic stars, devilish gospel choir, vengeful “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” and halluncinations in “Weed Ballet.” Takahashi doubles as McConaughey competitor Leo. They are buoyed by expert direction from Thomas Caruso and knowing dynamic choreography by Billy Griffin.
The lyrics and book reference every aspect of stoner Hollywood winking knowingly at McConaughey’s reputation and demeanor. And the cast heartily sinks their teeth into the material ripping into hysterical lines along the lines of respecting the actor’s abs or his work and awkward usage of words (literature-ly). For sheer laughs and fun, Matthew McConaughey Vs The Devil works. Though like many Saturday Night Live sketches – towards the end there’s a bit a flab. But the cast propels you through it – especially the dancing bong, bag of weed, and bongos. Daryl A. Stone’s sharp costumes are a great virtue. Check your brain at the door, have fun. This witty knowing, hysterical musical deserves a longer life past New York Musical Festival.
The show runs through July 16th and the festival continues through August. More information at nymf.org