Thursday, July 16, 2009

On-Stage: The Elephant Man—The Musical

Oddly enough, Joseph Merrick (a.k.a. John Merrick, The Elephant Man) has become bizarrely topical recently, as Michael Jackson’s death renewed speculation regarding rumors the King of Pop tried to buy Merrick’s bones from the Royal London Hospital. Evidently, Merrick and Jackson were a lot alike. Both were just lonely song-and-dance men desperately seeking audience approval. At least that is the unorthodox depiction of Merrick presented in No. 11 Productions’ mounting of Jeff Hylton and Tim Werenko’s book musical farce, The Elephant Man—The Musical, now playing on the @Seaport stage.

Much like David Lynch’s film and the actual historical record, Merrick goes from being a sideshow attraction to the charge of a well-known London physician in Hylton and Werenko’s book. However, in this musical version, he finds himself living with the disgraced Dr. James Lipscomb, a specialist in genetic deformity and author of naughty medical romances.

Slowly but surely, Merrick comes out of his shell thanks to the influence of Jessica Curvey, Lipscomb’s aptly named platonic girlfriend, and the memoirs of great Victorian thespians, like William Shatner. In fact, this is a kinder, gentler Elephant Man, taking Merrick all the way to Broadway as the star of his own show.

Clearly, Elephant does not take itself too seriously, but Hylton and Werenko’s book holds up to a cursory googling (aside from the obviously comedic fabulations). As the lyricist, Hylton deserves a lot of credit just for rhyming neurofibromatosis (to the melody of “Moses Supposes, no less). Indeed, the show has a lot of love for musical theater, taking inspiration from tunes like “Broadway” and even “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Liberally quoting from other sources, co-composers Paul Jones and Hylton (again) have penned quite a snappy, entertaining score. The memorable lyrics are performed with zest by a game cast, accompanied by musical director Rebecca Greenstein and drummer Daniel Miranda. Roger Mulligan and particularly Haley Greenstein show strong vocal chops as Merrick and Curvey, respectively. Overall, the four person cast, also including Ira Sargent as Lipscomb and Ryan Emmons in the dual roles of sideshow barker Horace Augsquatch and Broadway impresario Presby Raincoat, earn considerable props for their energetic performance of Simon Gunner’s wonderfully eccentric choreography. Frankly, the musical performances of this outrageous send-up well exceed expectations.

The humor of Elephant is broad and frequently ribald. Those who look for things to be offended by will have no trouble finding them in this show. However, it is a surprisingly upbeat, breezy affair that delights in amusing its audiences as much as its earnest protagonist. It runs through July 26th down at the 210 Front Street @Seaport performance space.