A Lusty Bodice Ripper With Good Songs and a Robust-Voiced Cast!
By Joel Benjamin
John Taylor Thomas has taken on the formidable task of transforming Henry Fielding’s 18th Century ribald novel, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling into a coherent, entertaining musical. That this new musicalized Tom Jones succeeds as well as it does is to his credit. He has neatly streamlined the plot and has written some good songs that use a hybrid of pop and classical forms to reveal the inner wickedness, lechery and good heartedness of the characters. In addition he and his director Lissa Moira have gathered a game, full-voiced cast to romp through this naughty, earthy entertainment.
On David “Zen” Mansley’s simple, but effective set, Mr. Taylor Thomas and Ms. Moira keep the plot moving, if not at a frantic pace, then at a gentle gallop, further stimulated by Jennifer Anderson’s extravagant and witty period costumes.
As in the novel and the film, the subject is love—and sex—and the course of love is never simple (although sex, at least in 18th Century rural England appears to be absurdly simple). Tom Jones tells of the true love of Tom (Douglas McDonnell) for sweet Sophie (Gloria Makino), daughter of the coarse Squire Western (Bennett Pologe), the next door neighbor of the upstanding Squire Alworthy (Mark Lang) who adopted Tom as an infant. The plot revolves around letters hidden from Tom by Squire Alworthy’s nephew Mr. Blifil (John Fox Powers), a fey lecher who is betrothed to Sophie. This betrothal powers the plot as it propels all the main characters to run off to the Cock Crow’s Inn where all the storylines come to their happy and satisfying conclusions.
The other characters are Western’s sister Lavinia (Mary Tierney), a middle-aged, shrewish social climber; Madame Honor, Sophie’s mischievous French governess (Elisa Nikoloulias); and, at the Alworthy house, the straitlaced Mr. Dowling (David Middaugh) who unavoidably gets caught up in Blifil’s nefarious plot against Tom. The cast of characters is completed with assorted Tavern inhabitants including a lusty Susanna (Rachel Daye Adams).
Every member of the cast is an able singing actor, with Mr. McDonnell leading the pack with a voice that filled the space. He admirably balances the good and evil in Tom’s persona. Ms. Makino is a sweet-voiced Sophie. Mr. Pologe and Mr. Lang manage to find three-dimensional personalities in their diametrically opposed characters. Ms. Tierney is a bit shrill as Lavinia, but lots of fun as is the slutty Susanna of Rachel Daye Adams. As Blifil, Mr. Powers doesn’t go overboard and has a terrifically strong voice. The two other principals are Elisa Nikoloulias as Mme. Honor and Mr. Middaugh, both of whom find depth in their underwritten characters.
The simple choreography of Jim Becker and J. Alan Hanna consists mostly of sexual couplings, plus a long, dramatically unnecessary dream sequence.
Ms. Moira’s direction and Mr. Taylor Thomas’ conducting keep the play rolling along. His songs could be a bit less stodgy and more witty, but they come alive accompanied by the seven-member band playing Mr. Taylor Thomas’ plush musical arrangements.
With a more substantial production, this Tom Jones could well leave the confines of off-off-Broadway.
Tom Jones (September 5th-22nd)
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. (between 9th & 10th Sts.)
New York, NY
Box Office: 212-254-1109
Tickets: www.SmartTix.com or 212-868-4444
More Information: www.TheaterForTheNewCity.net
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission