“MotherFreakingHood! (Maternal Discretion Advised),” currently finishing its run at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, celebrates “the mother you never thought you should be.” Apparently a riff on the sacred status of motherhood, the musical joins the ranks of movies that try to extol the virtues of the role by suggesting what it ought not to be. Whatever it was meant to be, the musical, which has been in the works since 2015, is a bawdy bunch of songs laced with an abundance of four-letter words, a dose or two of scatological language, and a curious interest in bodily fluids. If you find that sort of fare funny – as did most of the friends and family in the audience before, during, and after the performance I experienced – then this might be the musical for you. If not, stream “Bad Moms” once or twice.
The three mothers finding their way through the maze of mothering are all entitled, competitive, elitist, and straight. Squeaky beds got these three on their way (or back on their way) to parenting. A lesbian mother might have been interesting. Breast feeding is, of course, best: “babies who drink formula have to go to public school.” That is a real lyric. Honest.
There is nothing new in the musical. The scenes ramble through the ups and downs (mostly downs here) of motherhood – from the “Baby Phase” to “Graduation” and the “Last Freaking Song.” The music is engaging though unremarkable and sometimes derivative. Listening to “Friends to the End,” I thought I had somehow found myself in a performance of “Mame.” The book and lyrics are the stuff of television sitcom – cable, of course. The moms carp about post-partum depression (Ballad of the Post-Partum”), childhood conditions – ADD and allergies – and their own need for sedation (“Pharmacology”), tween and adolescent blues (“Prayer for a Late Bloomer” and “Hormones on Parade), midlife crises (Mama’s Midlife Crisis”), and – after prom and graduation – enjoying the empty nest.
The best part of the musical is the cast. Veronica Reyes-How (Rachael Nixon), Erin Leigh Peck (Angie Miller), and Harriet D. Foy (Marcia Burger) work extremely hard and manage to dig into their characters and make them as believable as possible. Their ability to interpret the lyrics and deliver their songs – from ballad to Broadway belt – is enjoyable and rescues the rest of the musical from the mundane and deplorable. Two of the mothers arrive at their child’s graduation drunk. It is difficult for this critic to find that – and other discretions – funny or enlightening. The wonderful Jimmy Brewer is assigned all the male roles and wrestles with them commendably despite the creators’ desire to portray men as buffoons. Antje Ellermann’s set is functional and Terry Berliner’s direction and choreography are adequate.