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Fermat's Last Tango

Reviewed by Karl Levett

Presented by The York Theatre Company at the Theatre at Saint Peter's Church, Citigroup Center, 619 Lexington Ave., NYC, Dec. 6-31.

This whimsical little musical is based on the true story of the Princeton professor who set out to finally solve Fermat's Last Theorem—Fermat being the 17th century French mathematician whose theorem has intrigued the math world these many years.

Here the professor is called Daniel Keane (Chris Thompson), who is visited by the shade of foppish Fermat himself (Jonathan Rabb), a ghost intent on hindering Daniel, singing, "I shall not share my glory." Observing the confrontation from the Aftermath—where great mathematicians go—are Pythagoras (Mitchell Kantor), Euclid (Christianne Tisdale), Sir Isaac Newton (Carrie Wilshusen), and Carl Friedrich Gauss (Gilles Chiasson). This sort of Aftermath co-op board debates the merits of Keane and Fermat, evaluates, and acts accordingly. Through all this, Daniel's wife, Anna (Edwardyne Cowan), is witnessing her husband talking to the air and despairs for his sanity.

The musical is the work of the husband and wife team of Joshua Rosenblum (music and lyrics) and Joanne Sydney Lessner (book and lyrics). On paper, this concept would seem to reek of originality; on stage, the theatrical equivalent never seems to be equal to the initial idea. As ever, the equation proved difficult. Some positive factors are the Aftermath and a game show format, but these are never quite enough to drive this very special material forward.

A principal negative force is that this is a "sung-through" show, so that what might have passed quickly as snappy dialogue is here often dragged out into doggerel recitative. Amid the multiple rhythms used, "The Beauty of Numbers" arises as a genuine song.

If the material is not as engaging as it should be, the cast certainly is. Thompson, carrying the musical, not only looks the part, but also sings with clarity and distinction. Rabb has a great time as Fermat, while Cowan, with much less to work with, proves a charming performer in her solo, "Math Widow." Director Mel Marvin adds several innovative touches throughout, his final tableau being especially memorable.

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