Saturday, February 11, 2012

Anagram Entertainement: Top Gun! The Musical (3 reviews)

Anagram Entertainment opened its production of Top Gun! The Musical at Empire Stage on February 9, 2012.
Singing. Satire. Subtext. If you see only one musical comedy about mounting a mega-musical, make it Top Gun! The Musical. You’ll laugh. You’ll hum. You’ll believe a jet can fly! For anyone who’s ever cringed through Cats, scratched their heads at Legally Blonde the Musical, felt the need for speed or wondered, “who thought THAT would be a good idea?”, comes this new satirical musical.

Top Gun! The Musical was the most successful show in the history of the Toronto Fringe Festival, playing to sell out crowds and unanimously good reviews. The South Florida premiere production features a strong ensemble of local singers and actors as well as new musical arrangements.
Jack Gardner directed a cast that included James Lott, Lindsey Johr, Laurence London, Christopher Michaels, Kelly Kopf, Todd Storey, Christie Oliver, Gisbert Heuer, Tommy Paduano, and James Dryburgh.

Rod Stafford Hagwood wrote for The Sun-Sentinel:
...the musical satire, staged by Anagram Entertainment at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale, sputters to get airborne and then barely stays aloft in what appears to be an under-rehearsed, undisciplined production.
It's not a total crash and burn. The songs have just enough bite and sarcasm. There are so many backstage-musical punch lines that if you could look past the self-conscious movement, stiff acting and 'fair' to 'please-God-stop-singing' vocals, the show could be a cult hit.
John Thomason reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
It's about the making of a disastrous musical adaptation of the cornball 1986 film, crash-landing from the beginning thanks to backstage rivalries, an overambitious director, a vain cast, and an ex-Navy SEAL producer aiming to use the musical as a propaganda tool.

The problem is, in this case it's impossible to tell the sloppiness of the 'show' from the sloppiness of the show. We know the musical within the musical is supposed to suck, but it takes a talented group to suck artfully.
The cast's enthusiasm for the project is apparent, but most of the actors simply don't have the goods. The dialogue between Todd Storey, as the exacting director, and Christie Oliver, as his production assistant, is stilted and artificial. The banter needs to snap, crackle, pop, and overlap; instead, the actors' sentences trail off as they wait for their partners to interrupt them, always one beat behind where they should be.
It gets worse. Listening to some of the players sing, it's a wonder they would ever be cast in a musical. They don't have the vocal range to sustain the requirements of the songs, and even the choreography — the most rudimentary steps I've seen in any musical anywhere — is performed ineptly. I will show some tact and not single out any names here, though it's worth mentioning that FAU student Lindsey Johr, as a gender-bending Goose, is a compelling presence who sings and acts circles around her colleagues. Her operatic, banshee pipes are one of the production's few highlights.
A couple of caveats: First, two of the actors I saw in the opening weekend production will be replaced in the following weeks, which may lead to some improvement. Second, the producing company, a new-to-Florida group called Anagram Entertainment, aims to foster new talent by casting inexperienced nonprofessionals in some roles, taking its chances on the results. If Anagram ever wants to be taken seriously in this outstanding theater community, then Top Gun! The Musical is an obvious argument against this approach.
When the character of Charlie (Kelly Kopf) complains to the director, "This is weak, Billy — it's amateur hour," I think she speaks for all of us.
Mary Damiano reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Even though Top Gun! The Musical gets off to a promising start, with Goose pushing Maverick around the tiny stage in a cockpit that appears to have been fashioned from a wheelbarrow, singing the catchy song “We’ve Got a Plane to Catch” an opening number designed to give exposition about Maverick’s dead daddy issues, Top Gun! The Musical quickly takes a nose dive. There is no plot to speak of; the cast simply recreates/parodies various scenes from Top Gun, while dealing with typical backstage dramedy.
...it would need a strong director and cohesively talented cast in order to make it work. Unfortunately, this production lacks both, and the promising material is a victim of sloppy execution.
Where to start? Perhaps with the lack of timing from the majority of the cast or the recitation that passes for delivery, or maybe that during the ensemble songs, each cast member seemed to be singing in a different key.
The exception to all of this is Michaels, who is a pleasure to watch. His performance injects his character with some personality and back-story, transcending the Iceman role to show the actor playing the character as a world-weary theatre gypsy who’s seen many big breaks fall through... Ironically, Michaels stepped in for an ailing actor, and only had six rehearsals before opening night.
As for the other actors — and that word is used very loosely — Storey recites his lines and never comes close to embodying the urgency of his character...
Oliver seems like a promising performer with a decent voice, but lacks stage confidence and can’t project. Many of her lines are inaudible in the back of the theatre, which in this case is the third row. Johr’s main attribute is her voice, and she loves to show it off to glass-shattering heights, a running joke in the play. Lott is as charisma-free as it gets, a non-descript actor who fades into the background, a baffling choice for cocky Maverick. Heuer gets one of the best songs in the show “Just Put the Asses in the Seats,” but he is a stiff performer and looks uncomfortable throughout his song and dance scene. Kopf is a triple threat: she can’t act, sing or dance.
Anagram Entertainment presents Top Gun! The Musical at Empire Stage through March 4, 2012.

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