Inge(new) – In Search of a Musical sets out to tackle a lot: it’s not easy to put feminist discourse on stage in a new way. In some areas, it shines, while in others the meta-premise limits the authenticity. This new musical is presented by Theatre Myth Collective at Red Sandcastle Theatre, with book and additional lyrics by director Evan Tsitsias and composed by Rosalind Mills.
Lights come up on Bridget Waters (Mairi Babb) as she auditions for an unresponsive, invisible director somewhere behind the audience’s heads. Mills and Julia Appleton’s score attempts to coax Bridget into singing, but she refuses, the first of many instances of the characters defying the expectations placed on them by the conventions of musical theatre.
The narrative is a surreal exploration of womanhood, blurring the lines between words in the script and those in the real world. Bridget insists that at 39, she’s still an ingenue; she’s been playing ingenues all her life. Apprehension builds as she realizes she can’t leave the audition room, forcing her to stay and interrogate her place as a woman in an industry that values youth.
The entrance of Joy and Gertrude (played by Elora Joy Sarmiento and Astrid Van Wieren, respectively) introduces an intergenerational dialogue between three women trying to make it in showbiz. Joy is young and full of enthusiasm, Gertrude is wise and quick to get laughs from the audience. The cast is small but mighty. Sarmiento and Van Wieren are terrific singers with phenomenal comedic timing, high energy, and a deep sincerity that keeps the audience invested even when the dialogue becomes at times repetitive. Both actors allow carefully calculated moments of humanity to peek through the heightened roles they are playing. The characters begin as stereotypes and become more layered and complex, embodying the musical’s central idea.
The songs are accompanied on piano, emulating the limited orchestration of an audition setting. The music is in keeping with the sound of much contemporary musical theatre, reminiscent of Legally Blonde or The Last Five Years. Even the premise is similar to Jonathan Larson’s Tick Tick…BOOM, an autobiographical musical about the dread of turning 30. Each song presents an idea or perspective that will be picked apart and revisited throughout the play. Van Wieren’s Gertrude sings about being “stuck in the mud,” and having to step out of your boots, the kind of vague advice a maternal figure might give in musicals to inspire the protagonist. In this show, the characters linger on the song, asking what that advice really means as they realize their problems are not so simply resolved.
Irene Ly’s set design is limited to items anyone who has attended an audition might expect to see. The walls of the space are adorned with brick-patterned stickers placed on a diagonal, peeling off in places. This combination immediately establishes the setting in a liminal space between real life and the many layers of scripts and performativity that the production interrogates.
Rachel Shaen’s lighting design heightens the unease building throughout the show. There’s a single lightbulb hanging in the middle of the stage that flickers, accompanied by an electric buzzing that becomes more prominent in crucial moments as the characters break out of their assigned roles and the constraints of theatrical convention.
What emerges as a possible weak spot in the production is Evan Tsitsias’ book. The jokes in the very first sequence (with Bridget alone onstage) occasionally feel repetitive, and it’s not until Sarmiento’s entrance that the show really takes off. A tighter script might make the performance more satisfying by trusting the audience to engage, and thus allowing the story to move forward instead of continuously circling back as the dialogue drags on. Another issue for me is the protagonist. Babb’s performance won me over, but her character remained vague throughout the story. Those first moments, for instance, might be more effectively used to establish details about her life. Later on, the script implies conflict between Bridget and her mother and hints at a big decision she may regret, but squanders potential authenticity by shying away from specificity and conflict. The characters get lost in the concept.
Though there are some areas that could be improved, Inge(new) is an enjoyable new musical. I was there with a friend who doesn’t often attend the theatre. She loved it, and followed the story and jokes even though the script relies heavily on references to theatrical conventions. Inge(new) is simple, yet polished, and the performers pull off the comedy and Jen Cohen’s choreography as if they are a single organism. It’s smart, funny, and every moment bursts with energy.
Inge(new) plays at the RED Sandcastle Theatre through June 4. Tickets are available here.
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