by JK Clarke
It’s hard to feel a connection with a story that features such an unlikable character as Belinda, the narcissistic centerpiece of the Prospect Theater Company’s musical, UNLOCK’D, in performance at The Duke on 42nd Street. It’s bad enough Belinda (played delightfully by Jillian Gotlieb) is a sugary hybrid of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, but she also sports a supernatural lock of hair which turns her into a monumentally selfish ditz. What’s more, the handsomest and most heroic lad in the land, The Baron Windsorloch (Sydney James Harcourt), is madly in love with her and wants her hand in marriage.
But, despite Belinda’s unlikability the production evolves into a delight, particularly in the quicker-paced and more purposeful second half. Sam Carner’s book and lyrics play nicely into Derek Gregor’s music. The songs are never out of place, always relevant and do well to break up lulls in the story. Gregor’s music, despite the fairy tale nature of the story, has a modern tone — while one riff in an opening number smacks of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly,” the music largely harkens to late 1980s Peter Gabriel; and Belinda’s singing can’t help but remind one of the beautiful voice of Kate Bush.
Belinda’s down-to-earth, likable and less-intellectually challenged step-sister Clarissa — the charming Jennifer Blood (who bears more than a passing resemblance in looks and talent to a young Julia Roberts) — occasionally lapses into somewhat out-of-place pseudo-Shakespearean rhyming couplets, which can be disquieting; but, she more than compensates with her singing. In the second act she performs a beautiful duet with Harcourt’s Baron that captivates the audience.
The dialog features occasionally quick-witted zingers, which are a pleasant counter-balance to often banal gnome and nymph fairy tale banter, as appropriate to the genre as it may be. These lines feel almost as if they were intended to enliven the dialog for the adults who would, presumably and appropriately, be accompanying children to the performance.
Costuming is also a strange melange of styles and periods. The Sylphs look as if they time traveled to a New Jersey shopping mall for outfits and hair-do’s; and the Ladies of the Court may very well have dropped acid with Marie-Antoinette, by the looks of their psychedelic Renaissance rainbow gowns.
While the Gnomes (who speak in trite Irish-esque accents that only can be described as unnerving) and Gentlemen of the Court — played by the same actors — are meant to provide moments of levity, the truly humorous moments are provided by Emily Rogers, as both the voice of Beatrice (Belinda’s magical lock of hair) and The Maid, who supersedes her primary role as an on-set stage hand, providing the joy and frivolity that can make a production so much fun.
Sound like the makings of a rather juvenile fairy tale? Despite it’s being derived (very, very distantly) from Alexander Pope’s far more sophisticated “The Rape of the Lock,” a supporting cast of sylphs, gnomes, fairies and jealous half-siblings make it more like a Hans Christian Anderson story. As a result, it is an ideal musical for adolescents.
Unlock’d feels like it ought to be Unlik’d, but pure talent, professionalism, and a cast that appears to thoroughly enjoy what they’re doing, make for an entertaining and valuable theater experience — but mainly for the younger set.
*Photos: Richard Termine
UNLOCK’D Through July 20 at The Duke on 42nd Street. 229 West 42nd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues). www.dukeon42.org