“Madame Infamy” at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Closed on Sunday July 27, 2014)

July 27, 2014 | NY Musical Theatre | Tags:
Book by JP Vigliotti
Music and Lyrics by Cardozie Jones & Sean Willis
Directed by Carlos Armesto
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Madame Infamy,” a new musical being presented at the Alice Griffin Theatre as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is an undertaking of epic proportion. The attempt to capture the lives of two important historical women namely Marie Antoinette and Sally Hemings in parallel, with Madame Tussaud as their liaison and storyteller, complete with singing narrative, is certainly no easy task. This production certainly has the feel of mega musical partly due to the sometimes sweeping, soaring melodies and intricate orchestrations of composers Cardozie Jones and Sean Willis; however the musical sometimes falters when those orchestrations are entwined in the book and lyrics. Too much effort is spent depicting these figures as idealistic humanitarians, (which is actually debatable) who were martyrs and saviors for their cause. The all evident immorality of both these women is tainted with saccharin and they are portrayed as courageous, compassionate leaders, complimented by frivolous lyrics and all too fortuitous scenes. This seems incongruous when being graced with the incredible music and lyrics of “I Dreamed” delivered by Justin Johnston with heartfelt integrity and strong but vulnerable vocal interpretation. Direction by Carlos Armesto is adequate but too lighthearted and at times distracting.

Once again, as is found throughout the festival, there is an amazing cast that is well prepared and up for the challenge. Rachel Stern uses her enormous vocal to narrate and portray Madame Tussaud with wise and perceptive comment. Bashirrah Creswell does her best to overcome the pitfall of a happy slave, as she inhabits the soul of Sally Hemings with genuine emotion delivering a clear sharp vocal tone. Briana Carlson-Goodman as Marie Antoinette tries to peel away the comical façade afforded her, to reach a darker characterization, and sometimes succeeds, but always delivers a strong voice that emanates determination. Kevin Massey gives credibility to Thomas Jefferson, never infecting the character with obligatory kindness, excessive emotion or melancholy moods and conducts his vocals with strength and power. The remaining cast is superb in every aspect of their support and in part make the production as grand as could be in the intimate space. The band is exceptional exhibiting a clear translation of every emotional chord supporting the spirit of the production.

There are awkward scene transitions in the dialogue and in the score that need to be addressed. The first act finale is weak, falling flat when entertaining the thought of a grand ball at Versailles. Perhaps a bit more attention to the depth of the main characters is in order along with the torment, struggle, morality and emotional stress that they endure which truly makes their mark in history. This certainly is an earnest attempt of a major piece of musical theater and hopefully only the first step. This is where the work begins. If you get the chance, do not be shy and take a look – you may be pleasantly surprised.