Musical Health Plan


The show doctor is in, and will take your cases one at a time, in order of urgency. I’m sure you’ve all filled out your insurance forms with the Group Sales officials at the front desk, so you’ll be protected no matter how fatal the diagnosis. Please be forewarned, however, that if you give signs of spreading serious contagion, the doctor will be forced to begin quarantine procedures. And if his manner seems snappish, bear in mind that an endless succession of debilitated English and Irish patients have worn him down in the last few weeks with their obsessive attempts to deny their decrepit condition. You musical cases have no such pretensions, we hope. All right, number one, please.

First case: A Mr. Wildhorn. Advanced delusional state. Symptoms presented: Vomiting loudly in public for two hours, under title of The Civil War. Third occurrence of such in as many years; samples of previous vomits, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll and Hyde, analyzed in earlier note sessions. Like them, current specimen contains extensive pre-chewed materials ingested decades earlier; total absence of fresh imaginative matter. Memo: Run brain scan to see if patient’s gray cells remain alive. Patient asserts that vomits are highly profitable, says he hires noted Broadway artists—director Jerry Zaks, designers Schmidt, Ivey Long, Gallo, Harrington—to arrange them in patterns. (Indicates possible onset of dementia.) Title of current symptom also implies touch of incipient megalomania. No relation to historical Civil War—indeed, no dramatic or historical content whatever—discernible in analyzed sample of contents. Few small undigested lumps of famous text from period noticeable at random points. Patient cites involvement of noted historian Eric Foner—possible misappropriation of name (more delusions of grandeur?) or conceivably extreme hideousness of case brought on by overfeeding. Extensive presence of backdated music, ejected without transformation, showing utter failure of inner processes. Patient defensively asserts audience preference for familiar sounds untransformed, indicating obvious detachment from reality at today’s ticket prices, as public always finds willful condescending fraud worst possible insult. Singers associated with event also brutalized by incompetent musical direction, orchestration, sound design, indicating advanced spread of sickness through all parts of organism. White performers largely reduced to nonentities, those of African origin to cartoon whoop-de-dooers lowering tragic history of slavery to sound-bite-level joke. (Further instance of authorial dementia.) Among rare exceptions: David M. Lutken, Michel Bell, Beth Leavel, Lawrence Clayton, Capathia Jenkins. (Note locations as emergency rescue crews may need to be directed if vocal conditions worsen.)

Diagnosis: Aesthetic cancer, probably incurable. Place in isolation ward to prevent spreading of opportunistic infection. Recommended referral: Kevorkian Clinic.

Second case: Siamese twins named Lamos and Marvin, claiming to be possessed by spirit of famous songwriting team, the Gershwin brothers. Symptom presented: 90-minute compulsive babble of Gershwin songs, famous and obscure, selection and ordering largely random and inexplicable. Hazy structural sense echoed by fairly frequent failure of aural selectivity (metallic arrangements imply severe tinnitus of all professional ears involved), and monochrome obsession (loathsome costumes often same garish color as backdrop) that suggests incipient retinal degeneration on director Lamos’s part. Physical counterpoint to musical babble, when parsed, found to be dialectical: alternation of intense overemotionality with fastidious anomic withdrawal. Bright, good-natured Gershwin material odd choice for quasi-autistic channeling; equally odd match for generally talented but un-Gershwinlike cast. Twins (mature) assert urge to communicate with today’s youth, irrationally choosing as a meeting ground ’70s disco style, possibly result of nostalgia attack brought on by midlife crisis. Nervous hinting at homosexual motifs in staging further evidence of aggravated identity problem. Few happy moments, despite presence onstage of Adriane Lenox, Darius de Haas, Michael Berresse, Sara Ramirez, Patrick Wilson.

Diagnosis: Total ego collapse brought on by conflict between artistic aims and crass impulse to make money, complicated by guilt. No permanent damage if quickly closed down and perpetrators sent for long rest from musical theater.

Third case: It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, collective creation by five members of cast and production team. No severe problems. Slight edema or swelling in area of expectations, induced by move to much larger house. Intermittent awkwardness and limitation of forward motor movements, brought about by confusion of intentions. Desire to show white and black people in harmony, mutual influence of groups on each other’s folk music, somewhat muddled by desire to put on show, make definition of “blues” as wide-ranging as possible. Result: Inner conflict occasionally hampers arc of show, motion of cast—intimate sit-down review somewhat misplaced in vast space of Beaumont, lacks flow, danciness. At same time, often strong musicality, likable people, good material not maltreated; at worst intermittent hints of overwork when a number or genre is leaned on too heavily. Favorite performers: Gretha Boston, Dan Wheetman, Gregory Taylor. No pain, only slightly limited ability for circumstances. Compared to other recent arrivals, easiest to bear by far.

Diagnosis: Patient in reasonable health with occasional minor lapses. Retransfer to cozier housing conditions recommended.

Last case (seen in embryo form at Off-Off lab): Fables in Slang, evening of excerpts from early-1900s humorist George Ade with songs of the era, compiled by cast member Gene Jones. Symptoms: Dislocated sense of purpose; self-conscious preoccupation with antique charm at expense of sense leading to periodic seizures of locomotor ataxia, confusion of realms, misguided fragmenting of songs and fables alike in effort to make material “dramatic” rather than presenting it as is. Striking absence of awareness of discrepancy between sweet sentiment and broad comedy of songs, delicately acid tone of fables; unwise introduction of Ade writing other than fables dilutes effect further. Distance from reality possibly product of director, Nick Corley (also worked on case 1, The Civil War, at early stage), as no coherent approach to material demonstrated; whereas Jones when given suitable roles often very funny. Cast overall uneven both musically and dramatically, Michael Mandell most proficient, also most anomalous presence; black actor once again used to stir up factitious life, pathos, while era’s black-white tensions go virtually unacknowledged. Enough value to deserve extensive revisory treatments, but conceptual absence and fits of uncertainty suggest prognosis negative.

Diagnosis: Probable that cheerful appearance conceals severe weakness of internal system. Recommend that patient be urged not to attempt any move, especially to larger venue, till specialists are called in. Extensive surgery likely to be needed, and may not help.

You can close up now, Nurse. Tell the nonmusical patients I’ll deal with them next week.

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