I have a dilemma.
The Carnegie’s final production of their repertory season opened tonight. Not only was taking on three musicals daring – and maybe a little crazy – but GEORGE REMUS: A NEW MUSICAL might have been the biggest of the three due to its newness. This is a world premiere; it’s a story full of Cincinnati references and local details (too many perhaps to be relevant or marketable outside of the region? hmm…), but at its core, it’s a look at a man who proves that with enough charm, hutzpah, and money you can pretty much get away with anything.
And that’s the dilemma I’m wrestling with.
From a production and performance perspective, this is world-class entertainment. Apart from some glaring lighting mishaps on opening night, all the production elements work together to tell the story well. Tyler Duncan Gabbard’s fantastic set design combines functionality with style again, and the subtle projections on the stage move us from time and space seamlessly. Likewise, the costumes perfectly suggest a specific era – but also a mythical time in American history.
Joe McDonough wrote the book, while Janet Vogt and Mark Friedman wrote the music and lyrics. The dialogue is sharp, the tunes are catchy enough, and it’s a high-grade professional show. But it’s also a celebration of a corrupt, dishonest man who – spoiler alert – killed his wife in public in front of witnesses. He even defends himself in court, showing no remorse, with a massive smile on his face.
Michael Sherman, who does a tremendous job vocally and acting the part of this charismatic figure from history, is all in with the smarm from the start. August Bagg, the MVP of the Carnegie series, provides the humble balance as Ned Gillespie. Kate Mock Elliot is riveting as Mabel Walker Wildebrant, a prohibition prosecutor. Tyler J. Martin holds his own as Franklin Dodge (as well as other characters), and Eliza Levy practically steals the show as Imogene, Remus’s wife. Jamal Stone, Madison Mosley, Maria Zierolf, Aaron Marshall, Kyle D. Taylor, Sean P. Mette, and Julia Noelle Brosas round out the cast.
There’s nothing wrong with the performances; I’d argue that this series from the Carnegie features the best musical theatre performances you’ll see locally outside of CCM or the Aronoff Center.
And in fact, there’s nothing wrong with the show at all. It’s a well-executed production (thanks to Maggie Perrino’s direction and choreography). But after watching the news, I’m struck by the parallels of another charismatic, rich white guy who is very likely to get away with some horrendous things – with a smile on his face – while many people hum along and applaud him. That makes me uncomfortable.
GEORGE REMUS: A NEW MUSICAL is almost sold out. It’s definitely worth seeing – but I wonder if anyone else will walk out unsettled the way I was.
Click here for tickets and more information.