Stuck, with a book, music and lyrics by Riley Thomas focuses on issues that have plagued our society for years. They include the stigma of the mentally ill, homophobia, racism, homelessness and poverty. For the most part, the music was generic, uninteresting, and unmemorable. For the first time in quite a while I found myself at a musical where the book was better than the music. The book contains moments where characters confront each other’s stereotypes upfront in frank conversations.
The characters include Lloyd, a homeless African-American man played by Mel Johnson, Jr., who offers to perform Hamlet for the subway car in exchange for donations. A young white boy, Caleb, played with earnestness by Tim Young. He’s “stalking” Alicia, a pretty young Asian woman played by EJ Zimmerman. Also in the car is Ramon, played by Danny Bolero, a panicked Latino man who is on the outs with the mother of his children and struggling to make a living by holding down multiple jobs. There is a middle-aged woman, Sue, whose teenage son has recently taken his own life. Sue is played by Beth McVey. Eve, played by Anita Welch, is an African-American woman with a chip on her shoulder. She has just found out she’s pregnant.
For the most part the cast was fine, not spectacular. I’m sorry to say that Ms. McVey had neither the acting nor the singing chops to carry off the role of the sad middle-age woman. The music was out of her range and forced her a couple of times, particularly during “Now That You’re Gone”, a song she sings about her dead son, when her notes were not particularly sure footed.
Ms. Welch has a very attractive voice but on her song “Eves Song,” it appeared as though she could not hear the band and for a large part of the song was singing in a different key.
Ms. Zimmerman as Alicia has perhaps the best song of the evening, “I Break into Your House”, where she compares Ramon’s status as an illegal immigrant to a burglar breaking into your house. This song, perhaps more than any other in the show, showed some of the creative potential of this piece.
The direction by Michael Berry is creative in his use of David S. Goldstein’s scenic design. The subway car is represented by two benches on casters with a frame of painted PVC piping surrounding it to create the handrails of the car. Mr. Goldstein has also done the lighting for the show making use of multiple lobster scope effects to create the sense of movement.
I must take exception with one particular element of Stephanie Alegado’s costume design. In the script, Alisha makes two negative references to Caleb’s clothing. At one point she says to him if he would dress like a human being rather than someone going to a vampire convention that women might be more interested in him. There is nothing about his clothing that screams “weirdo,” “freak,” or even “stalker” for that matter. He’s dressed rather normally. Either the costume designer didn’t read the script or she missed the mark.
Mr. Berry doesn’t end the musical with a particularly strong sense of direction. For that matter, playwright Thomas hasn’t written an ending with a clear sense of direction. The characters exit the subway car in pairs having awkward conversation while they do. Then due to the smallness of the stage they’re stuck standing there on stage while the other pairs each exit the subway car. Director Berry should have had them exit down through the house. It could have made the final moments of the last pair, Sue and Lloyd, so much more effective.
Unfortunately, the theater was so warm that they were giving away bottled water for free. I certainly understand when you’re running a festival of this type and of this magnitude that things like that happen. I certainly am not blaming anyone for that but unfortunately, the theater felt like we too were trapped in a subway car.
Stuckwill play the following performances at the 45th St. theatre.
Wednesday, July 18 at 8:00pm