NY Theater Review by Sherry Amatenstein
Mr. Confidential – the sprightly but over-long, semi-truthful 2014 New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) offering about Bob Harrison, the 1950s era publisher of the first celebrity rag – is the theatrical equivalent of Gawker and Hollywood Life. A lot of talent is involved and there are spurts of entertainment – particularly when Erin Leigh Peck, as Harrison’s power-seeking niece Marjorie, is belting to the rafters. But not so confidentially, this musical needs more star power and less padding.
Kevin Spirtas. as the title character, is pleasant. However, he lacks the charisma necessary to play a character that morphed from publishing girly magazines starring his girlfriend Jeannie (a standout Amy Bodner) to being proclaimed “The Sultan of Sleaze. ”
In an era when movie studios tightly controlled publicity about their top stars, Harrison and his niece not only paid sources to sling dirt on everyone from Bob Hope to Elvis and all famous points in between, he engineered elaborate hoaxes (i.e.: pretending to be shot while vacationing in the Dominican Republic) to garner publicity for the magazine.
Paul Michael Valley exudes evil fun as onetime DC powerbroker and fulltime Communist hater Howard Rushmore, who was recruited by Harrison for his connections to gossip columnist titan Walter Winchell (ably played by Michael Marotta).
But the play truly catches fire when the women are front and center. Erin Leigh Peck’s hilarious renditions of “Girl Next Door” and “Duchess of Dirt” are worth the price of admission. A close second in entertainment firepower is Alena Watters, in multiple roles including Marlene Dietrich and an informant whose thick accent and huge sunglasses bring down the house each time she enters.
In the end, Harrison shutters the magazine after being indicted on charges of obscenity and libel, in the process regaining his – ahem – soul. But the genie can’t go back in the bottle The public’s insatiable thirst for non-stop sleaze about their Hollywood idols can’t be quenched.
The score is first-rate: you’ll be toe tapping in your seat. With a few cast changes and trimming of the book Mr. Confidential could soon be settling for a long run at an off-Broadway theater. You read it here first!