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Review: 'Mary of the Avenue' sincere even as it overreaches

April 25, 2013|By David C. Nichols
  • Kate Sullivan, left, and Mary Ellen Gridley in "Mary of the Avenue."
Kate Sullivan, left, and Mary Ellen Gridley in "Mary of the Avenue." (Theatre Americana )

Two performances remain for “Mary of the Avenue” at the Stella Adler. Clearly a labor of love, it demonstrates why workshops should be de rigueur for developing new musicals.

Its authors, Greg Wood (music) and Neil Scanlan (book and lyrics), follow the titular Manhattan vagrant (engaging Mary Ellen Gridley) and Carrie (sweet-voiced Kate Sullivan), the abandoned Midwestern daughter she won't acknowledge, with a self-imitative generic bounce reminiscent of organizational fundraising events.

Actually the opener, “Cold Wind,” is somber, even as it conjoins “Harlem” with “snarlin’” and “alarmin’,” a portent of what’s ahead. Most numbers are unflaggingly coy, per such titles as “Sacks of Fifth Avenue,” “Baskin’ in Nebraska” and “Life’s a Pisser.”

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Critically, the direct-address premise is astoundingly disconnected from even musical comedy reality. Given that, and the rudimentary staging by director Donna Scarantino and choreographer Rikki Lugo, the eager cast and stalwart band are downright heroic.

Besides Gridley and Sullivan’s climactic “Long Ago” duet, which carries what’s missing elsewhere -- authenticity -- Michael Shaugnessy’s posturing mayor, Sarah Hunter’s press secretary and the ensemble wring wit from the City Hall spoof “Homeless Not Hopeless.” Louise Miller, Bill Brunold and Mike McAdam have their moments as Mary’s cronies.

The genuine disenfranchised article is everywhere outside the venue. There’s nothing remotely perky about them. That regrettably reinforces how far this sincerely intended work-in-progress (and then some) overreaches.

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“Mary of the Avenue,” Stella Adler Theatre (2nd Floor), 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday. $20. www.brownpapertickets.com (323) 465-4446. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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