musical comedy

Who’s on first? Anonymously yours

On Monday at The Armory, the company that does not know each other meets onstage for the musical "Urinetown." Expect the unexpected.

Sitting down for coffee one morning last week with Darius Pierce and Elizabeth Young, I found myself asking questions about nothing. Not nothing, actually: no one. No twenty ones, as it turned out, those twenty being the cast and chorus of the musical satire Urinetown: The Musical, which opens – and closes – on Monday at The Armory.

Pierce knows the identity of these twenty elusive entertainers, but in this he is pretty much alone in the universe. And he’s not spilling. So, a little like medieval philosophers discussing dancing angels and the load-bearing capacity of the heads of pins, we were talking about what we did not know and could not see, though we were convinced of the reality behind the mystery.

How could this be? The name of the production company, Anonymous Theatre Company, provides a clue. The quixotic mission of Anonymous is to produce one play a year, for one night only, in which nobody in the cast knows who the other actors are until they meet them, during the performance, onstage. All of the actors sit with the audience, in street clothes, until it’s time to make their first entrance. Then they rise from their seats, and are revealed. Can’t tell the players without a scorecard? At Anonymous, the scorecard doesn’t help a bit. As Kerry Ryan, one of the company’s founders, puts it, “The audience gets to see the story happening as if it is happening for the first time … because it actually is happening for the first time.”

The crowd at an Anonymous Theatre show. You can show the audience. The actors are a closely guarded secret.

In the communal world of the theater, an art form whose essence is collaboration, this approach is about as counterintuitive as driving from Chicago to San Francisco to get to New York. Even solo shows aren’t done in isolation. Designers, director, stage manager, running crew, music director and choreographer if it’s a musical, and others are involved intimately in the process.


Book of Merman: missionary position

No, that's not Mormon. It's Merman, as in Ethel, and Triangle has a lot of fun with its West Coast premiere parody.


If Mel Brooks and Cole Porter had a musical baby, it would be The Book of Merman, the parody parody playing at Triangle Productions through December 19 in its West Coast premiere.

That’s Merman, not Mormon.

Ethel Merman was the brassy voice of the Great White Way, who cemented her fan base by cutting through orchestras without a mic, and the fathers of Broadway wrote just for her. Her star was too big and bright for the screen, but her performances onstage in Porter’s DuBarry Was a Lady and as Mama Rose in Sondheim and Laurent’s Gypsy defined the roles. She was on par with Judy Garland and Tallulah Bankhead, but didn’t suffer from their penchant for overindulging in the liquor and medicine cabinets. She worked endlessly up until her death in 1984, and in later performances found a gentle irony as she appeared more frequently to look like she was in drag.

Carver and Shindler divide their affections. Photo: Triangle Productions

Carver and Shindler divide their affections. Photo: Triangle Productions

The Book of Merman, with a book by the playwright Leo Schwartz, is a parody of the hit The Book of Mormon and several of the American standards that Merman made famous. But in this musical, the two Mormon elders have better luck at the end of their missionary day. Elder Shumway (Collin Carver) and Elder Braithwaite (William Shindler) are goodie-two-shoes with milk-and-cookie personalities that come off with a hint of a Bobby, Victor, Hans or Herman from Cabaret – that is to say, their love of an ascetic life, maybe a lifestyle that represses a more human kind of love. Shumway has a little come-hither in his eye, and Braithwaite is all the innocent smiles of a kid at his first county fair.


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