Playwright Albert Innaurato has transformed his successful 1977 Broadway roman à clef into a high-spirited musical about a young Harvard student returning for the summer to his South Philly neighborhood, with Charles Gilbert, Innaurato's colleague at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, providing music and lyrics. Filled with kooky, outsized characters and a generous if often salty live-and-let-live spirit, Gemini the Musical, like its lead character, has a lot of heart but is still struggling to find its voice.
Fran (a smooth and affable Joel Blum), the Italian-American pater familias, starts things off by crooning out "One Big Family," which makes clear that in this neighborhood "we kiss, we cuss, we kick up a fuss." However, both the story and the score, while bouncy, tend to lurch a little. Gilbert relies to a surfeit on monosyllabic rhymes, and the majority of the songs are solo numbers, odd in a piece that is all about family and interreliance. Still, Linda Hart (from Broadway's Hairspray) kicks up a delightful self-dramatizing fuss as Bunny, the aging harlot next door, and her second-act showpiece "I'm Gonna Jump!" is the high point of the show, sung from high atop a street pole.
Innaurato's love for his idiosyncratic characters remains strong even 30 years after their initial introduction to the stage, but revising his main character Francis' (recent Boston Conservatory graduate Dan Micciche) struggles to come out as gay to conform to contemporary sensibilities may not have been the right decision for this musicalization.
What's clear is that the game actors performing the piece are still struggling to make their characters more than cardboard cutouts under Mark Robinson's somewhat slapdash direction. As much as Dana Kenn's two-dimensional flats accurately convey the brick-faced row houses of South Philly, the creative team needs to continue working toward showing the three-dimensional lives of the characters who inhabit Innaurato's world.
Presented by the University of the Arts as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival
at the Acorn Theater, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC.
Sept. 18-Oct. 1. Remaining performances: Tue., Sept. 25, 8 p.m.; Sat., Sept. 29, 4:30 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 1, 8 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.nymf.org.
Casting by Stuart Howard Associates.