Monsters! A Midlife Musical Meltdown; The Regent Theatre, GP Productions, and Image Theater, 2/25/12-3/10/12, http://www.regenttheatre.com/details/monsters_the_musical.
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
(Arlington, MA) We’ve all been there (well, at least anyone 25 or older). Years pass; we have successes and failures. And then it hits us–where did all those years go? Remember the wide-eyed 18 year old who thought he/she had everything figured out? Monsters! A Midlife Musical looks at what happens when all of the insecurities, all of the doubts, and all of the concessions that have been made in Samantha’s life confront her on her 40th birthday.
Samantha (Emily Bowder Melville) has a positive outlook about her life at the start of the show. She has decided to quit her job as a stockbroker and has decided to take a trip to Peru to pursue her dream of becoming an archaeologist. Her mother, the formidable Cheryl McMahon, does what many parents do and tries to discourage this “nonsense” to keep her daughter safe and secure. Samantha, though, is resolute in her plans and is ready to take action to make her dreams come true and highlights this with the poignant ballad “Half of a Life.” After her mom leaves, the monsters/demons show up.
The first monster who shows up is Apathy played by Patti Hathaway. Apathy advises Samantha that it would be too much effort to change her life and that she should just relax and watch tv. Samantha starts to question the trouble of changing her life but summons up her courage to ignore that urge. That’s when Fear (Lisa Beausoleil) shows up. Fear is reminiscent of the junk lady in the movie Labyrinth (“here are your dolls…”). Fear is the strongest of the demons (only Apathy prefers the term “monster”) and is able to bring up every anxiety that Samantha can think of. She tends to be the leader of the demons as they try to keep Samantha from changing her life.
The other demon, Body (Zachary D. Gregus) preys on Samantha’s insecurities about her body image and tries to suppress any remaining positive feelings that she has. A birthday stripper (Jennifer Fogarty) enters in the second act, who just happens to be a psychology student. Although she doesn’t seem to see the monsters, she tries to calm Samantha down and help her to look at her situation in a logical, rational manner; one of her most memorable songs is: “Phobias” which is reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s sessions with Lucy. In the end Samantha realizes that her monsters are not going to go away, but they don’t have to. Life can sometimes be scary or difficult, but also rewarding.
The entire cast is marvelously talented and makes the sometimes uneven book less noticeable. All of their voices are strong and confident. Emily Bowder Melville does a commendable job at keeping Samantha from becoming pathetic by allowing an underlying vein of strength to always shine through. Cheryl McMahan’s performance conveys both a keen sense of self as well as an over-protective nature. During some of the demons’ songs she even sings the same words that the demons sing. As the demons, Patti Hathaway, Zachary D. Gregus, and Lisa Beausoleil do a good job of playing the emotional connection with Samantha without becoming stereotypes. Furthermore, Jennifer Fogarty (the birthday girl) holds her own against these experienced, talented actors. She is definitely an actress to keep an eye out for in future productions.
While full of potential and relevancy, the book and the lyrics seem to still be in revision–or at least seem to need to still be in revision. There are some really nice songs such as “Half of a Life,” “That’s What I Would Do,” and “You Need Us.” And there are some funny songs such as “Phobias” and “Dress Up.” However, some of the songs are weaker and some seem unnecessary. The opening song “Everybody’s Got Monsters” does what an opening song should do in introducing the tone of the show. However, it does little else. The song seems more like an obligatory musical theatre writing assignment than a logical starting point for the show–the main character is Samantha and it’s her story; furthermore, the song seems like a failed attempt at “Reefer Madness” or worse a slightly better version of “Little Luncheonette of Terror” (hopefully, most of you haven’t had the displeasure of seeing “Luncheonette”).
Several of the scenes to songs seem awkward. Right before certain songs, particularly the demons’ songs in the first act, one can tell that they’re going to sing, but it doesn’t make sense why they do other than “there’s supposed to be a song here, so we need to sing a song.” They rarely have a motivation to start singing. The strongest and most connected songs are Samantha’s which come directly out of her hopes, dreams, and fears.
Hopefully, Gail Phaneuf and Ernie Lijoi, will continue their commitment to revision of the book and the music (as they have since 2005) to re-tune the awkward moments. Monsters! A Midlife Musical Meltdown contains much comedy and truth–particularly if you’re around middle age–that it’s comforting to know that there are other ways of dealing with turning 40 without buying a sports car or dating someone younger or simply feeling old. For some good laughs, talented actors, and a hopeful message, Monsters! A Midlife Musical is a worthwhile excursion.