Music/Lyrics/Book by Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria
Directed by David Arisco
THE VERDICT: I had a pretty good view of the audience during Real Men, and the look that never seemed to leave everyone’s faces (including my own) was a smirk. No more, no less, and it more or less never cut out. There were often chuckles and sometimes sincere belly laughs alongside it, but the dominating attitude was a knowing, haha-this-is-true smirk. You could fault Real Men for not being ambitious in theme or high-minded moral, but if you’d like to smirk and giggle and call it a night, come on down.
Real Men (comma, a musical for guys and the women who put up with them [woof, that title]) is a musical revue-style send-up of men, manliness, machismo and menfolk–one hour and thirty minutes of songs poking fun at men aged nine to ninety. It’s a grinning portrait, clean and harmless, and doesn’t really want to be much more. What’s there, though, is a good deal of fun. The first half is pure pastiche with consistently polished comedy. By the time you get to the second half, you find yourself recognizing the jokes even if the repetition is clever, and the comedy wears a bit more thin. But at the same time the show starts hitting closer to home: The men on stage start singing about the boys they’ve fathered and their own fathers, and you feel the show–in both comedic and sincere moments–find more of its heart. It’s a little narrow-minded in its range of men-types and I wish the portrayals of women were a bit more nuanced, but hey, on the whole, I’m charmed.
Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:
- THE COMPANY: These three have spit-shined musical comedic chops–landing this many sketch comedy-style songs is a feat. It’s three jokes a minute all the way through. Paul Louis oozes earnest charm and nails the genres he spoofs, Stephen G. Anthony has an assured sense of character and finds the best grounded emotional moments in the show, and Nick Santa Maria possesses an astute sense of comic timing and pregant pausery that I, frankly, don’t quite comprehend. I could watch this guy pauses after punchlines all day.
- MUSIC: Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria also did the music, lyrics and book. If I didn’t know better, I could believe these were sharp parodies of classic musical theater standards. Clearly made with a lot of love and reverence.
- DIRECTION: David Arisco knows exactly what the show wants to be, which is more than I can say for many directors in the field. Most impressive is his inventive musical genre-based staging and stylizing–many of the best comedic moments come from smart nods to staple song types.
- THE PUPPETRY: Kind of a secret weapon for the comedy. The sheer amount of puppetry is impressive, and each is used to its limit. Paul Louis and Ellis Tillman did the puppet design–their work is smartly crafted and, frankly, a highlight.
WHAT IT’LL GET NOMINATED FOR:
- EXCELLENCE IN DIRECTION: You wouldn’t expect it for a review, but if direction is a measure of making a show be what it should be–then David Arisco deserves at least a nod.
- EXCELLENCE IN WRITING (LYRICS and MUSIC): Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria have put more work into these lyrics and music that is visible at the surface–they’re skin deep but the comedy is distilled and smart.
WHAT IT CAN WIN:
- EXCELLENCE IN DIRECTION, EXCELLENCE IN LYRICS.
WHERE IT’LL GO:
As fun as the show is, it’s hard to see it moving beyond an intimate Off-Off-Broadway space. But it maybe doesn’t need to go bigger than that. If it was up to me, I’d add a couple of songs or bits that discuss the women (or men) in men’s lives with as much eloquence as some of the later numbers discuss the relationships between fathers and sons–it’s a bit of disservice to the show’s title that there isn’t more of that.
For more information, visit: http://nymf.org/festival/2015-events/real-men-musical-guys-and-women-who-put-them