If you happen to get free tickets to The Sphinx Winx (Beckett Theatre)—and I can’t imagine anybody going under any other circumstances, once the reviews are in—be sure to choose a suitably irrelevant topic to mull over during its 85 inane and ineffectual minutes, since your mind will have plenty of time to wander. I hadn’t come prepared. After all, you never know when a show by unknowns, with a dorky title, might actually turn out to be good. Consequently, I was stuck.
But long years of attendance at bad or mediocre theater in between the good times have fortunately given me a lengthy backlog of references to flip through. So while I sat, glazed-eyed and numb-eared, at this retooled 1950s undergraduate show, a spoof of the Antony and Cleopatra story by four writers lacking even the savvy to know that “Caesar” equals “emperor,” I trailed the thread of memory back to the era (late ’50s and early ’60s) when producing Off-Broadway was cheap, and New York’s small-theater scene was full of similarly forlorn hopes. The boredom induced by The Sphinx Winx holds no terrors for someone who has sat through Gogo Loves You and Buy Bonds, Buster!.
Spoofing classical antiquity, in an undergraduate manner, was part of the scene back then, sometimes even with known names involved. I arrived too late for The Athenian Touch, starring Marion Marlowe and Butterfly McQueen, which actually left behind an original cast recording, or for Sing Muse!, on which the classical scholar (and kitsch novelist) Erich Segal was a co-author. Perhaps you, too, recall that, in that Trojan War musical, Helen sang a number titled “Your Name May Be Paris, But I’ll Call You Gay Paree.” Ah, the old days. They were—well, they were every bit as bad as today, when they chose to be.
There were also better Off-Broadway musicals then, of course, even in the spoof department. The Sphinx Winx makes Little Mary Sunshine, or the Grael-Chodosh Streets of New York (a neglected gem), look as good as The Barber of Seville. The cast, mostly trying too hard, offers little help, though Rebecca Riker and Bret Shuford, who play the romantic leads (Antony and a slave girl), sing tolerably, and Tara Jeanne Vallee’s choreography displays glints of a genuine comic sense, absent everywhere else. But fear not, it’ll be gone before you can winx.