The current Transactors Improv Co. production of New Jersey, New Jersey, a scripted backstage musical written and directed by Transactors musical director and pianist Mark John Lewis, is obviously a work-in-progress — and nowhere near ready for a main-stage production. Set in 1961 in East Kenwood, NJ, and New York City, this Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Musical barely runs 90 minutes, including intermission; but it wears out its welcome long before the final curtain falls. Indeed, it is far inferior to a middling performance of the Transactors' trademark long-form improvisational comedy known as "The Musical!" (In "The Musical!" the Triangle's masters of the ad-libbed musical comedy improvise a complete Broadway-style musical — from overture to grand finale — on the spot, based on audience suggestions.
The main problem with New Jersey, New Jersey is that Lewis takes an utterly predictable plot — the one about newcomers from the sticks auditioning for parts in a big Broadway musical — and peoples it with two-dimensional stereotypical characters so thinly written that they not only fail to engage the audience, but quickly fade into the background.
The score for New Jersey, New Jersey is harder to judge. The music and the instrumental accompaniment by Mark John Lewis (piano), Nathan Logan (drums), and Tyson Rogers (keyboards) are pleasant enough, but why has Lewis cast so many non-singers in singing roles? When you write lyrics as lame as these, you need all the help you can get to milk every ounce of mirth out of them.
Transactors director Greg Hohn is amusing as Butch Vernon, a swimming pool salesman from guess where who longs to sing and dance in the chorus. Jimmy Magoo is funny as Bruce W. Johnson, another sad sack who longs to see his name in lights. Rachel Klem, who has a singing voice that should be restricted to the shower, has her moments as crusty nightclub impresario Mabel Bird; and Mark Miller hams it up as snooty self-absorbed Broadway director Rubin Drake.
Harvey Sage is good as Wild Mike Penworthy, a former circus clown, in a murky subplot that never really pays off; and Andrea Maddox is cute as Butch Vernon's long-suffering wife, Phyllis. The less said about the rest of the cast, the better.
Second Opinion: April 3rd review by Raleigh, NC News & Observer correspondent Roy C. Dicks: http://www.triangle.com/calendar/theaterreview/story/1112139p-7204025c.html and April 7th review by Durham, NC Independent Weekly chief contributor Byron Woods: http://indyweek.com/durham/current/woods.html.
Transactors Improv Co. presents New Jersey, New Jersey Thursday-Saturday, April 1-3, 8-10, and 15-17, at 8 p.m. at The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main St., Carrboro, North Carolina. $10 ($9 for ArtsCenter Friends) Thursday and $15 ($13 for ArtsCenter Friends) Friday-Saturday. 919/929-2787. Transactors Improv Co.: http://transactors.org/NJNJ.html.