BROADWAY OR BUST
book, music, and lyrics by Paul Kalburgi
Directed by – Bruce R. Coleman
Music Director – Mark Miller
Choreographer – Andi Allen
Set Design – Maxim Overton
Costume Design – Michael A. Robinson
Props Design – Dayna S. Fries
Lighting Design – Sam Nance
Sound Design – Kurt Kleinmann
Stage Manager – Elizabeth Lloyd Carr
Mindy Bell – Cynthia
Ellen Eberhardt – Molly
LisaAnne Haram – Jan
Nancy Lamb – Flo
Mark Miller – Mr. Milburn
Chuck E. Moore – Percy Scott
Jeff Poteat – Murdoch
Mary-Margaret Pyeatt – Celia
Reviewed Performance: 8/9/2019
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
When asked at intermission what I thought of Broadway or Bust thus far, I answered honestly that it was “cute.” And it is. The characters are cute stereotypes, the storyline is cute, and the songs are cute. It’s a very CUTE show.
Plays and musicals featuring a play-within-a-play that mirrors the actors’ “real lives” are hardly original. From big, glitzy musicals like 42nd Street to Noises Off and everything in between, these stories have been told quite a bit, so Pegasus Theatre’s choice to produce Paul Kalburgi’s small backstage musical is a bit puzzling. While it IS set in Dallas, making it appealing, I thought at first that it was one of those “change the locale to fit your theatre” type things. Unless there is quite a lot that can be personalized, it became clear in Act II with the song “Fried Chicken” that the play is actually set here. Interestingly the playwright makes his home in Auckland, New Zealand, but this isn’t the first play he’s written that has been performed in Dallas; his In the Tall Grass, produced by the Bishop Arts Theatre, is a past winner of the DFW Theater Critics Forum Award for best new play.
This play opens during a rehearsal for a fictional old musical called Broadway Glitz. Everyone is concerned that they’re going to lose the theatre if this show isn’t a big hit, as they’re behind on their rent. They’re even planning to do a raffle to raise extra money, and the director manages to break her ankle badly by tripping over one of the raffle items – a toaster. Alas, the show will be canceled and the theatre closed down unless someone else can step in and direct.
Enter Percy Scott, played by Chuck E. Moore, who has, according to his letter to the director, directed “On Broadway.” Percy has no intention of allowing Broadway Glitz to go on as written, and he cuts and slashes the show to bits while adding ridiculous back story to the characters, to the dismay of all the actors. Mr. Moore is deliciously vicious as he casually insults the acting and physical traits of his cast, complete with changing innocently sweet dialogue to rude. At first, he comes across as a jerk who really just wants to write a new, edgier story, but we gradually find out a bit about his past, and it all becomes more clear. Naturally he learns something about himself by the end and is reformed. Mr. Moore plays the angry and the apologetic equally well and comes across as a nicely rounded character.
LisaAnne Haram plays the original director, Jan, with harried realism. She knows she has a limited time to get this show up and running, and the clock is ticking for the theatre itself, adding even more pressure. Ms. Haram has some very fun moments as she rolls into into rehearsals periodically to check on things.
Mindy Bell portrays ingénue Cynthia with wide-eyed innocence. Her role is that of a typical “pretty girl who always wanted to be an actress but life got the in the way until she just took a chance and ended up with the lead in a musical.” Fortunately, she is a bit more developed than that, in that she’s a single mom who works multiple jobs and has to make sure she can get a sitter for rehearsals. Ms. Bell has a powerhouse of a voice and excellent stage presence. She does come across as much too smart to pull off the ditziness her “actor” character should possess, but that’s one aspect of the stereotype for which I think we can forgive her.
Cynthia’s love interest, Murdoch, is played by Jeff Poteat. He has a wonderful tenor voice and moves well, but he seemed a bit lost as an actor. Perhaps it was opening night jitters, but he fumbled a good many of his lines and didn’t seem to have much chemistry with his co-star, whether within Broadway Glitz or during the backstage portions.
As the nosy Brit Celia, Mary-Margaret Pyeatt gave a very strong, well-rounded performance. Her total commitment to the stereotypical busybody who has an opinion about everyone and everything was absolutely perfect, and she was also able to make us feel for her when tragedy struck. Plus, she can sing and dance. Nicely done.
Ellen Eberhardt plays Molly, the typically overworked and underappreciated stage manager who would rather be acting with just the right amount of jaded realism. I loved her whispered counting during all the dances, and it was a joy to see her come into herself during one of the tap numbers. As choreographer, Andi Allen creates some fun tap moments throughout the show, and Ms. Eberhardt’s character obviously has a good time with them.
As the grand dame of the theatre who is about to retire, Nancy Lamb plays Flo with elegance and style. Her mirrored role in Broadway Glitz is silly and overly stylized, and her solo at the end, “Theatre Clown,” is truly lovely.
Mark Miller wears a couple of hats in Broadway or Bust, as he is both the music director and the character of Mr. Milburn. While mostly silent except to impart a few words of wisdom here and there, he makes his presence known at all times without ever stealing focus, and not just while expertly playing the piano. He is always engaged and is therefore fun to watch. I must also commend Mr. Miller on his role as music director. You probably won’t come out of the show with any of the songs stuck in your head, but they were all very well done.
Overall, costumes by Michael Robinson were appropriate for a struggling community theatre putting on a show, but I have to question the weather. Mr. Milburn comes in a heavy coat and indicates it’s very cold outside. The next few characters are wearing light jackets, and then Murdoch comes in wearing short sleeves. This confused me. I did, however, love all of Cynthia’s various work outfits. They really helped us understand just how many jobs the poor thing was juggling. Jan’s glittery ankle brace in the final scene was also a really nice touch.
The time period also confused me. It’s obviously a few years after 2007 due to Murdoch’s mother’s transcription of General Hospital episodes (don’t ask), but if Celia is supposed have been 7 years old in 1965, that would make her a LOT older than Ms. Pyeatt in 2019. Everyone had modern cell phones, so it was hard to know, and the setting and costumes didn’t tell us much. Speaking of the set, Maxim Overton’s simple scenic design (loved the mismatched chairs) worked very well for the space, and adding the curtain at intermission contributed to the play within a play feel. Sam Nance’s lighting added to the proceedings, and I especially liked the large “work lights” in the middle of the room. Dayna S. Fries’ props and Kurt Kleinmann’s sound rounded out the solid design work for the production.
Director Bruce Coleman has put together a stellar cast and done a superb job of staging the show in the small Bath House space, even if the script itself isn’t as strong as a customarily solid Pegasus Theatre offering. There are just a few too many plot holes and revelations late in the script to explain things that happened early on, along with the overly stereotypical characters and the feeling I’d seen this story many times before. At well over two and a half hours, I admit that I found myself often looking at my watch.
Don’t get me wrong: I still think it’s a very cute show, and it’s a fun night of entertainment. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, this is the show for you! Just don’t go expecting anything new.
BROADWAY OR BUST
performing at the Bath House Cultural Center
521 Lawther Dr., Dallas, TX 75218
Runs through August 24
Actual days: Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 pm, plus Saturdays at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $25-30.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.pegasustheatre.com or call the box office at 214-821-6005.