Directed by Jay Stern
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
It is Fringe season, and the lower East side of Manhattan is buzzing with the NY International Fringe Festival now celebrating a 19th year with a new theatrical kaleidoscope. As in years past, audiences, reviewers and staff search for the golden ticket, the reward of finding a few shows that might have a glimmer of hope for a future, or at least be treated to an hour or two of good solid theater. The new musical comedy “Hell is for Real” with book, music and lyrics by Gary Apple falls into the category of the typical fringe musical filled with satire, zany characters, vulgar language, derivative music and simple often mundane lyrics. Although this is not the quintessential example of dramatic structure and writing, what it offers is a couple of hours of crazy, ridiculous, superfluous humor in the dog days of summer.
Six year old Davin is accidentally transported to hell where of course he does not belong. Upon returning from his visit, he is plagued with strange, weird and satanic events as well as visits from Carl the banjo playing Bogeyman. Dad Richard goes to all lengths to save his child visiting churches, secret satanic cults, exorcists and finally a trip to hell to meet with Lucifer who gives him an impossible task to complete in order to save his son. What follows is an absurd comical adventure that moves at a fast pace under the direction of Jay Stern.
The cast is strong and plays whole heartedly into the material giving it more substance than it actually has, riding the thin line between actuality and pasquinade. They work extremely well as an ensemble each supporting the other, fully committed to the task at hand. They are accompanied by an overly competent band that deserves more sophisticated material and arrangements. There is nothing new or inventive here, just what you might expect from a wacky musical comedy. Audiences should give it a try if you are looking for a few laughs, some good vocals and an evening of light, mindless entertainment reminiscent of an extended SNL sketch with music. It could possibly become one of those late night cult musicals that lasts for a while, and might be better after a few drinks.