By: Isa Goldberg
January 23, 2023: The theatrical revue, once a mainstay of the Off Broadway theater, hasn’t soared in these parts since Gerard Alessandrini’s “Forbidden Broadway” was on the boards. That sense of parody, in the well-appointed hands of Philadelphia’s Lightning Rod Special theater troupe, brings us “The Appointment,” a reprisal of their 2019 New York City production – currently playing at the WP Theater.
It is a lot of fun to play with these interactive fetuses. More than mere cabaret performers, the fetuses address us directly, confront our parenting methods, and intentions, and express their impressions about life, that will not be lost on any of us.
Costumed by Rebecca Hanach, we see the actors faces, in spite of the rubbery-looking fetus material, in which they are swathed. Umbilical cords hang decorously to the floor.
At first sight a set of twins huddle together. Another fetus (Katie Gould) looks like a Kewpie doll and has the musicality of Debbie Reynolds. But a Scary Fetus (Jaime Maseda) behaves far too disruptively in his mommy’s belly.
Along with them, we meet a strong-looking black male fetus (Danny Wilfred), and an adorable black female (Brett Ashley Robinson). They are the cute ones. Maybe they’ll survive.
Alex Bechtel’s score is quite exciting, especially on the upbeat numbers. He definitely grabs the beat and delivers it, so that it is entirely contagious. His lyrics, in this case, evolve from the oddest circumstances, as when the fetuses sing an ensemble number about what they like.
It takes a minute to catch the drift, but eventually their comments about phone calls from credit collectors, and screams of “goddam it, get in the house,” are clearly conversations they hear from the womb.
Let us not be misleading here. They like where they are now, but getting out is not inviting. Climate change arrives at some point later in the production to rule out the chance of anything, or anyone welcoming these fetuses into the world. The onstage antics are outrageous, absurd, and mostly hilarious.
Still, what the audience recognizes over and over again, in this spoof on the reversal of Roe v Wade is their “you win” attitude. In that song, “you win” turns to, “you suck,” with a list of invectives that follow lyrically. However, as this musical parody demonstrates, winning cannot mean nearly as much as losing, when what you will lose is best gone. It’s the absurdity of the winning mentality that is targeted.
Hence, the song, “I never learned to walk..run…drive…” In spite of the fetuses’ self-pity, their supporters will eventually learn, and succeed, by getting rid of them.
Written by Alice Yorke, Eva Steinmetz, Scott R. Sheppard, and Alex Bechtel, the musical swings between the revue style starring the fetuses, and a narrative, with the same actors portraying various characters, including women at an abortion clinic.
At the end, one of the women (Alice Yorke) has an on stage abortion. It’s a static, and totally silent 5-minute scene. Unfortunately, it’s boring, and drags out a show that is already repetitive.
Besides, watching Yorke virtually asleep on stage is a waste, when she shines in the previous number. Singing a Suzanne Vega style ballad along with the ensemble of women in the abortion clinic, her voice digs into the banality of it all.
In spite of the gifted efforts of its creators, and the enormous talents of the actors, the show runs away with itself. The story elements, and the political commentary become a bit heavy handed. Like wading through thick soup, it takes too long.
However, the ensemble of actors scores so brilliantly in their big musical numbers, and in their improvisational scenes, that the humor and musicality turn us around.
To that end, Robinson – the adorable fetus is also a mercurial improviser, a daunting provocateur, and a very sexy actor. Minora’s transformation from fetus-terrorist to rock star is impressive. Gould who appears at first as a Kewpie doll later portrays a defender of the religious right, albeit with hip-hop hands, and the attitude of a lowdown bully.
It is interesting that the production calls on such a sentimental formula – a variety show of sorts. In that regard it is easily accessible…not necessarily like an abortion, but necessarily the way abortions should be. At least, that is the picture we’re given here.
The show is performed by a powerful, and funny ensemble. Fortunately, Director Eva Steinmetz knows to unleash them. And the music is surprisingly on point.
2162 Broadway at 76th Street,
New York, NY 10024
Tickets and information: theappointmentmusical.com
January 12- February 4, 2023
Photography: Michael Kushner