NY Theater Review By Joel Benjamin
The plot of Red Eye Of Love is a gentle love triangle. In real life, too, this show represents a gentle and genteel love story, that of John Wulp whose devotion to the original non-musical production of Red Eye, written by Arnold Weinstein and directed by Wulp, led to their 50-year collaboration musicalizing this sweetly silly play. The result, at the Dicapo Opera Theatre, is the Amas Musical Theatre’s robust and amusing staging of the musical, now with music by Sam Davis and book and lyrics by Weinstein and Wulp. That it took 50 years and several composers to come up with this modest show is true love.
Red Eye Of Love immediately brings to mind such campy pastiches as Little Mary Sunshine, The Boy Friend, Curly McDimple and Dames at Sea – all wonderful, but very much of their time, their cultural targets—period movie musicals, operettas, etc.—clearly and affectionately joshed. What was campy and satirical in the 1960s is virtually meaningless to millennial audiences whose cultural references change at the speed of cyber-communication.
Red Eye’s satirical targets aren’t quite clear, but the arch, heightened dialogue and period-perfect production keep this balsa wood boat afloat. Slightly ditzy, self-centered Selma Chargesse (Alli Mauzey who looks and sounds like a young Bernadette Peters) is wooed by O.O. Martinas (Kevin Pariseau), an older man who owns a meat department store who stimulates her materialistic side, and by Wilmer Flange (Josh Grisetti), a rangy, handsome and unemployed young man who stimulates her romantic side. Beginning in the 1910s and ending sometime after World War II the story of Selma falling for the poor, but cute Wilmer, having his baby and being wooed back to a life of luxury by O.O., is helped by the songs which range in style from ragtime to boogy-woogy to military marches to ballads to soft shoe and everything in between.
O.O. is obsessed with his meat store’s constant expansion while poor Wilmer can’t seem to settle down. He tries his hand at doll making, but goes nearly mad trying to produce a doll that actually gets diseases and dies. He also, for some reason, wants to move out West to live with the Navahos! Selma just can’t make up her mind, but does indulge in all the luxuries O.O. provides for her and the son she had with Wilmer, Bez who grows up not knowing his real dad until the very end. The story makes fun of capitalism, silly romantic plots, movie clichés and absurdism in general, but comes across as arbitrary and silly rather than pointedly satirical.
The three leads are wonderful. Kevin Pariseau manages to make O.O. a full-bodied character rather than a caricature. His obsessions are palpable. Josh Grisetti fully embodies all the quirks of Wilmer. He sings and dances beautifully. Alli Mauzey is a charmer who looks fabulous, sings with a sweet soprano and keeps up with all the demands of the choreography of Lainie Sakakura and Alex Sanchez who have clearly done their homework on all the periods portrayed in the plot.
The six members of the chorus all have charms of their own and are kept busy dancing and singing, all the while making the split second costume changes demanded by the plot.
The simple set by renowned artist Robert Indiana consists of a large backdrop depicting the prices of different kinds of meat, plus bits and pieces of furniture that efficiently indicate time and place. The costumes by Martha Bromelmeier are a delight with so many perfect period details that they are a show in themselves. Ted Sperling directed with a perfect sense of rhythm and a good feel for the absurdity of it all.
The two pianists, Greg Jarrett and Roberto Sinha provide witty accompaniment to the show which is performed without electronic amplification. It’s refreshing to hear such good voices without any distortion.
*Photos: Carol Rosegg
Red Eye Of Love
August 27th – September 28th, 2014
A New Musical Comedy – Amas Musical Theatre
Dicapo Opera Theatre – 184 East 76th St. at Lexington Ave. New York, NY
Tickets: 212-868-4444 or www.SmartTix.com
More Information: www.amasmusical.org/redeyeoflove