“WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T ASK WHAT THIS SHOW WAS ABOUT”
Natalie Portman, The Musical! is a two-hour, no-intermission sketch-comedy musical written and directed by Brittany Garms, with music by Frankie Marrone and Tara Pitt. With Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman as her theme, Garms does not explore Ms. Portman’s already very public personal history, but rather comments on and exploits the cult of recognition that dominates the contemporary American entertainment industry.
Tara Pitt as Natalie Portman heads the cast of eight energetic actors who take the audience “through the life of Natalie Portman, what may or may not have happened,” performing primarily hypothetical scenarios—from an embarrassing late night hang-out with an infatuated agent to a demented Sesame Street taping.
Unburdened by the actual facts of Natalie’s personal history, the script is chronologically grounded in pop culture references of the mid-90’s to the early-00’s. A detailed prop inventory brings these recent-history media artifacts to life, such as when Natalie and her fictitious high school rival Suzy Jenkins prepare to have a confrontation: their classmate Wilson (Adarius Smith) exclaims, “Suzy, hold my Saved By the Bell lunchbox!” and pushes one into her hands.
There are many sketches, some are better than others. Without a plot or purpose to drive the action, the quality of the material fluctuates, and some clever ideas are allowed to go on for too long, or are bookended by less stellar scenes.
The sketch comedy aesthetic works best when administered in small, specific doses. Scripted on-stage edits pepper the performance. “You stole my Beyonce CD,” says Suzy Jenkins. “What year is it?” Natalie counters. “1995,” admits Suzy, who then corrects herself, saying, “You stole my Destiny’s Child CD.”
Memorable musical numbers include “Go to Harvard Today,” a pointedly show-stopping song-and-dance number in which Jodie Foster (Lindsay Nesmith) appears as a Gospel-singing guardian angel, and a belting Broadway-insider’s-throw-down number, in which Gwen Bueker and Garms compete to prove who really deserves to sing the next song. The patter song summaries of Natalie Portman’s less memorable roles are informative, funny, and appropriately brief; these extractions are some of the most cleanly executed pieces of the performance, with a smart use of rotating screens to quickly provide imagery to back up the information (inventive work by scenic designer Bradley Garms).
The cast powers through the long show with energy, though some cuts might better serve the audience’s stamina. Pitt’s Portman is direct and unassuming, best when walking the fine line between passive-aggressive and oblivious. Each actor in the ensemble has at least one opportunity to get a good laugh, however Bueker deserves special mention for her hilarious, simple portrayal of the white swan rival / understudy, and Nesmith for her turn as a Portman-fixated puppeteer.
It’s in-between genres, neither a musical nor a sketch show, self-admittedly episodic, without purpose, and blatantly superficial. In the big finale, they sing about their attention-getting exploitation of the life of Natalie Portman, “chronologically, sequentially, and for the most part, hypothetical,” in a musical with “no character development, no climax, and no plot.”
So what is the show about? It’s about the creators telling us to not ask what this show is about.
photos by James Esposito
Natalie Portman, The Musical!
Chromolume Theatre at the Attic in Los Angeles, CA
scheduled to end on September 30, 2012
for tickets, call (323) 510-2688 or visit http://www.crtheatre.com/natport.html