“Mr. Confidential” at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Closed on Sunday July 27, 2014)

July 27, 2014 | NY Musical Theatre | Tags:
Book and Lyrics by Samuel Bernstein
Music by David Snyder
Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Nachamie
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Mr. Confidential” is the new musical currently running as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. With an outstanding book, lyrics that complement and successfully expand the scope of the book, and music pleasing to the ear and heart, this is a big brassy musical with a Broadway beat begging for attention. With a cast headed up by Kevin Spirtas, “Mr. Confidential” tackles the meteoric rise and softer fall of Robert Harrison the 1950s iconic journalistic purveyor of scandal, gossip, and the art of the expose.

American success stories have always chronicled those who win and those who get scarified in the process of “climbing the ladder.” Bob Harrison achieves success with “Confidential” by betraying confidences and outing members of Hollywood’s LGBT community. In one July issue of the magazine, under a photo of Liberace the tease line reads “Why Liberace’s theme song should be, ‘Mad About the Boy.’” Some objects of Harrison’s scathing attacks did not care; others could have been blacklisted and lost their Hollywood appeal.

It is at this point that “Mr. Confidential” the musical becomes most accessible to the audience. Few audience members have not climbed over fallen friends, family, and acquaintances to “make it to the top” of their game. There is a Bob Harrison deep in the heart of each of us. Mr. Harrison believed the magazine was successful because it was liberating for readers and icons; others thought “Confidential” was successful because readers delighted in seeing successful and prominent personages brought down to earth.

Stephen Nachamie’s clear-cut Broadway choreography and exacting direction serve the talented ensemble cast well. Kevin Spirtas (Bob Harrison), Amy Bodnar (Jeannie Douglas), Erin Leigh Peck (Marjorie Meade), and Paul Michael Valley (Howard Rushmore) anchor a superb cast of thirteen. Mr. Spirtas captures Bob Harrison’s character with the wink of an eye or the quick turn of the head and dazzles in the “Chicago” style “Bobby Is Back” where the chorus of fan dancers dons copies of “Confidential.” Amy Bodnar’s Jeannie is as deep as she is shallow and delivers “The Girl with the Yellow Hair” with show-stopping perfection. Erin Leigh Peck captures the soul of Bob’s niece Marjorie who leaves her husband Fred (Joshua Dixon) to head up the magazine’s west coast shenanigans. Her “Girl Next Door” is both a mantra of liberation and – reprised – an anthem of despair and defeat.

“Mr. Confidential” is still in its early stage of development. Most songs have clear placement and serve the plot well; others need editing or cutting. And most of the musical’s scenes handily drive the plot forward. A few, like the trial scene, need to be shortened and perhaps reimagined. Without such prudent pruning, the closing scenes in the second act might spin out of control. There is no need to bring every character onto the stage to resolve her or his particular conflict. To do so weakens the powerful ending.

Don’t breathe a word, but just between you and me, in strict confidence, with some judicious redaction, “Mr. Confidential’s” foray into the sustained prevalence and resilience of gossip and innuendo could easily find its way onto the Broadway stage. Remember, you didn’t hear it from me.