Off-Broadway Review: “Matthew McConaughey Vs. The Devil” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row

Off-Broadway Review: “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by Emilie Landmann and Carrie Morgan
Music by Jonathan Quesenberry
Lyrics by Carrie Morgan and Jonathan Quesenberry
Directed Tom Caruso
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Matthew McConaughey vs The Devil: An American Myth” is yet another version of the story based on the fictional character “Faust” here set in Hollywood and dealing with an unsuccessful actor who makes a deal with Satan’s agent to sell his soul in return for winning an Oscar. It is assumed that this musical was created as a parody, lampooning and mocking the actor’s habits, talent and career. This is probably where the project goes wrong. Mr. McConaughey was a very successful actor long before he won the Academy Award for best actor, with an impressive list of credits, therefore there is nothing to mock. The jokes become senseless even with a long stretch of the imagination.

It is truly amazing that the producers could assemble such a stellar cast that is far superior to the material. The book by Carrie Morgan is finagled, shallow and implausible which tends to sabotage most of the attempted comedy. Jon Quesenberry’s music fairs much better, offering a variety of styles, both interesting and entertaining always assisting the remarkable vocals. Their combined effort at producing lyrics is mostly successful, often helping to move the plot along with an engaging and amusing approach. Director Tom Caruso moves the action along at a steady pace but starts to lag in the last thirty minutes, especially during the extensive dream sequence that comes much too late in the production to captivate interest. Costumes by Daryl A. Stone are appropriate, clever, and imaginative and serve the actors and production well.

Now for the incredible cast that is the sole and soul reason to see this current incarnation. It is a pleasure to just sit and savor their fine craft while relishing their impressive vocal ability. Wayne Wilcox excels in the manifestation of Mr. McConaughey with puppy dog vulnerability, comedic flexibility and a clear strong vocal. As the Devil’s agent, Lesli Margherita is as powerful as the bright red dress she wears perfectly and is a seductive, facetious villain with a broad Broadway belt. Max Crumm gives a sincere and honest portrayal of best friend Woody and Jennifer Blood chisels out a determined, faithful yet vulnerable Penny with a pure soprano. The qualified ensemble does all it can to insure support despite the pedestrian choreography of Billy Griffen.

The major problem with this production is that the content fails to engage the audience or energize the hard-working cast. It may pass as being slightly entertaining but lacks any substance that may make it memorable.