Beached Whale

Beck Center's musical Moby Dick sinks like a lead zeppelin.

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Moby Dick! The Musical Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood Through July 3, 216-521-2540
An enthusiastic cast can save a musical of questionable quality, as can a few good singing voices or some inventive staging gimmicks. This is obviously what director Scott Spence had in mind when he decided to mount Moby Dick! The Musical at Beck Center. So his young cast emotes like crazy, the singers turn in some fine work, and virtually every theatrical device -- strobe lights, follow spots, squirt guns spraying the audience, black lights, and did we mention the spinning disco globe? -- are thrown into the mix. But it's all sound and flurry, signifying not much, in what is perhaps the least funny parody of a fictional work since Silas Marner! The Interpretive Dance.

Recognizing that the average whale carries about two tons of blubber, the best that can be said for this material is that it is true to the species. Among the 20-some songs written by the regrettably prolific team of Robert Longden and Hereward Kaye are maybe two satisfying numbers ("Moby Dick" and "Love Will Always"). Among the rest are too many self-consciously serious ballads, a weak takeoff on Gilbert and Sullivan, and lots of repetitive (and frequently ungainly) melodies.

Another problem is the show's cutesy premise: A school for girls holds a fund-raiser by presenting a musical version of the Herman Melville classic, picking up props from around the campus (a fishing net is the phys-ed department's badminton net). But once the curtain goes up, the authors seem to forget these are actually students -- there's no infighting or backstage snits, and none of the kids makes fun of the school's headmistress, the rather ripe target who is playing Ahab.

And that brings us to the talented Kevin Joseph Kelly, who plays the headmistress in drag. This should be the perfect opportunity to allow Kelly -- who has a fierce sense of the absurd -- to go apeshit with this campy role, combining Carson Kressley, Rip Taylor, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Dame Edna into a minor masterpiece. Instead, Kelly hits the stage in a dress, but with no feminine makeup. Then, within minutes, he's jettisoned his headmistress persona to play Ahab, singing in a deep voice that is impressive, but only sporadically amusing. In the second act, Kelly has a disco solo that should be a show-stopper. But since costume designer Sharon Stark decided not to give Ahab a jury-rigged wooden leg -- which would have made his dance sequence hilarious -- Kelly tries to fake it, wearing a white legging and sneaker with much less comedic effect.

Still, Kelly manages to trigger laughs with repeated (Moby) dick jokes, while Hannah Corrigan lends a strong set of pipes to Ishmael. Amiee Collier is a ramrod-proud Starbuck, and Paul Floriano does the best he can with some side characters, although his one-armed Elijah somehow regrew his second arm during one of choreographer Martin Cespedes' energetic roundelays. But if youthful energy is your cup of grog, there's enough here to stay looped for a month.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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