THE LIFE, a rarely performed musical by Tony Award winning composer Cy Coleman, makes its Delaware premiere at The Wilmington Drama League.
The production is a gritty portrayal of pimps, prostitutes and the motley and unsavory crew of lowlifes in the big city. The subject matter is not dissimilar to Coleman’s mega hit 3 decades earlier, SWEET CHARITY. (The lead character Charity Hope Valentine, played by the inestimable Gwen Verdon, was also a prostitute). And that show also had going for it the choreography of Verdon’s hubby, Bob Fosse.
Hence, the reason why, gentle reader, you have never heard of this. Coleman’s predilections aside, THE LIFE is a poor man’s CHARITY; one might even say a beggarly version. Not only are the prostitutes destitute, so is the dialogue, the melodies, the lyrics, the dancing and the truancy of laughs. I took note of only one character with anything resembling redeeming or likable qualities.
(I take that back. There was one laugh. One of the ‘hookers’ exclaims, “I’ve been in 7 beds tonight and haven’t slept in one of them!”)
There are many “why’s” to this production: Why did the very talented musician/director and certified theatre persona Tina Sheing choose this show; why did WDL think it would sell to their patrons and fundamentally, why was this ever created in the first place?
WDL staged two Standing O shows last year with RENT and CHICAGO. THE LIFE will not be remembered in the company’s pantheon. The latter show was blessed with the signature pelvic thrusts and fedora hats of Bob Fosse. Choreographer Jody Anderson did a fabulous job in its recreation. In THE LIFE the choreography had none (life, that is) for Anderson had no baseline talent with which to work.
As the array of costumes for the ‘hookers’ paraded out, I could only think of the now deceased flamboyant designer Blackstone, who would come on TV the day after The Academy Awards and pulverize each Red Carpet walker who was not appareled to his taste. Lacking his wit, Aisle Say shall be discreet and leave it at that. There was no one designated “Costume Designer”. I would imagine no one wished to take final responsibility for the ungainly cluster of colors, corsets and bosoms over-breeching their bodices.
Multi-tasker Matt Casarino generally does yeoman work with musical direction. His offstage band overpowered the dialogue during a large portion of Act 1.
The leading woman Queen (Sharon Brown Ruegsegger) is a veteran of local theatre. Her voice, especially in “He’s No Good”, a painful elegy to her scheming and manipulative man, is the highlight of the production.
These are the apogees and nadirs of community theater. This is about volunteers who not only play on stage but serve on the boards, build and paint sets, forage at Goodwill for costumes, hunt for props at yard sales and spend countless late hours on creating a product for the public good.
Next up at WDL is Neil Simon’s laugh classic BAREFOOT IN THE PARK. Simon, by the way, was the librettist for SWEET CHARITY.
Book by Ira Gasman
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Ira Gasman
Directed by Tina Sheing
September 16-October 1, 2011
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd
Wilmington DE 19802