Bigger isn’t always better. First a one-act in Madison, Wisconsin, then a hit at last year’s Fringe,
Walmartopia has metastasized into a full-length, opulent Off-Broadway production; the strain in the transition shows. The musical indicts the world’s largest retailer for some legitimately outrageous conduct, like union-busting and systematic sexual discrimination, while also making easier, less compelling complaints: It’s tacky, it promotes mass culture. The first act’s muckraking energy gets dissipated as the second develops a fairly tired sci-fi premise, sending rebel mother-and-daughter staffers Vicki and Maia (Cheryl Freeman and Nikki M. James) into the capitalist-totalitarian world of 2036; it’s something like a Futurama episode scripted by Katrina vanden Heuvel. Solid musical numbers, briskly arranged by director Daniel Goldstein and choreographer Wendy Seyb, keep the show from dragging. Freeman emotes gloriously in her showcase songs, and she’s backed by a sharp supporting cast, with John Jellison as the villainous Scott Smiley a standout. But thin characterizations and thinner politics—Wal-Mart, after all, is more symptom than cause of our unhappy consumerist present—leave Walmartopia seeming ultimately less imaginative than the intricate inventory systems of its gargantuan adversary.
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