Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Presented by the Chameleon Theater Group, Inc. at the Beckmann Theater Space at the American Theater of Actors, 314 W. 54 St., NYC, Jan. 17-21.
Brian C. Petti's "Hindenberg—The Musical" is, in some ways, a far better idea than an actual musical about the great dirigible disaster. By keeping his play at a remove from such silliness, his play has a running chance. A satire of musicals? A parody of plays? Quite possibly. But this play is neither, unfortunately; under the playwright's direction, the work hungers for inspiration, made thin by a diet of tired gimmicks, plot clichés, and flat characters. It doesn't fly.
That this ostensibly Off-Broadway musical is even being produced is the handiwork of a queeny, aging, failed actor, Rodney (Lawrence Merritt), who has agreed to star in it. Act One focuses on the auditioning actors, from on-the-make Rick (James Elmore), who can't exist without coming on to women and will turn obsessive to find one, to Mary Jo (Mary Ellen Nelligar), who can't sing without drinking a Coke and will also turn obsessive to find one. David (Rich Hotaling) is Mary Jo's fey, funny best friend; Millie (Sarah Dawson), the token lesbian actress; and Erma (Jill Carroll), the bombshell from Middle America.
The Director (Joe P. Morgan) sees virtue in looming disaster, and proceeds with the production, aided by the Stage Manager (Peter J. Dawson). Only Jay (Collin Warhaftig), son of Rodney's agent Jerry (Sal Polichetti), is happy—he's an NYU undergraduate looking for his big break.
And what a break it is. After declining to properly set up a tight farcical structure, Petti lets "Hindenberg" fall. The musical numbers—"My Nazi Shatzie," "A Good Captain Always Goes Down with the Blimp," and "Hydrogen"—don't inflate, tickle, or even offend. Only "Oh, the Humanity," performed by a raunchy, Marlene Dietrich-style Merritt, clad in a too-tight leotard, fully fulfills its comic potential.
Given the tiny space, Kevin Larsen's set pieces are surprisingly serviceable, while Kathryn Hunter Luciana's lighting errs with far too much light spilling onto the audience.