In Hollywood, sequels are compulsory. Live theater, unlike Tinseltown, tends to be more selective about revisiting its characters and stories. Most of the time, anyway.
A . . . My Name Is Still Alice, currently onstage at Phoenix Theatre, is the sequel to A . . . My Name Is Alice, a 1984 off-Broadway hit revue that lampooned contemporary women's issues. The original show--a half-baked assortment of songs and skits by a couple of dozen different writers--ran forever in regional houses across the nation, most notably in Houston's Alley Theater, where it still holds the record as that venue's longest-running show.
Apparently, one record-breaking ton of twaddle wasn't enough for Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd, who compiled the original Alice as well as this slapdash, soporific sequel. Where the first Alice celebrated womanhood through the ages, Alice's daughter focuses on women of the '90s. The tone and theme are the same, although more than 10 years after the original, the material is somewhat worse for wear.
With next to no summer stock this year, Phoenix Theatre is counting on Alice to draw crowds. Perhaps they're also banking on reviewers too squeamish to slam a show about women's rights--or one that professes to be about them, anyhow. If this pallid production belies the company's usual expert touch with musical revues, it's at least partly because of its banal material: With a couple of exceptions, the songs and sketches, written by both men and women, are forgettable. Although I saw this revue only hours before sitting down to write about it, I can't recall a single melody or punch line from its two-plus hours.
A . . . My Name Is Still Alice is a formulaic mix of vaguely humorous songs wedged between ballads, blackouts and shallow sketch comedy. It fails as a feminist treaty by making women either goofily macho or scornful of men, a too-obvious alternative to actually saying something about the state of feminism or the challenges of being female. It's not enough to switch gender roles or poke fun at men with small penises, as does Dan Berkowitz's unfunny "Gross Anatomy Lecture." The show lacks a solid point of view, perhaps so that audiences won't be offended by any overtly political or pro-feminist statement. But anyone with any taste will be offended by Alice's unfocused writing and predictable humor.
Several amusing ideas fall flat, like a spoof of women's prison flicks set in a steno pool, and "Painted Ladies," about a trio of famous paintings who voice their frustrations about "the weaker sex."
The few bright spots are musical, and most of them belong to singer/comedienne Michelle Gardner, who soars with Christine Lavin and John Gorka's spirited "Sensitive New Age Guys." Gardner's solo on "Baby," a stirring song about an abandoned infant, displays her wonderful singing voice to good advantage.
There's more wasted talent here: Theresa Springer stumbles chirpily through a series of dumb skits, and Ellen Benton gets short shrift in a cutie-pie running gag that spoofs TV commercials for "women's products." Other cast members can't keep up: Peggy Lord Chilton--whose name recalls a veddy proper British lady--acts too broadly and sings too coarsely, and Susan Miller Dee is nothing if not consistent: I've seen her in a dozen different shows, but never in anything in which she remembers her lines. Robyn Ferracane, our best-known musical-theater leading lady, has been doing these cruise-ship confections for too long, and it shows. She looks bored (and a little long in the tooth) in skits that require her to act like a silly schoolkid or a crazed stenographer.
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Much of this squandered energy is courtesy of Terrance McKerr, who also contributes lackluster choreography and indifferent direction. McKerr's main contribution is an updating of a skit about "The Clarence Thomas Home" for unwed mothers. Even the usually dependable Jerry Wayne Harkey fumbles his way through with ho-hum musical arrangements and slothful playing.
The result is tedious and barren, a show full of cheap tricks and preciousness that says nothing about women--nothing good, anyway. If A . . . My Name Is Still Alice were a device for measuring the state of feminism, we'd all be in serious trouble. Instead, it's merely an indication of the quality of summer theater in Phoenix--which means that, at least until something better opens, we should spend our evenings at the movies.
A . . . My Name Is Still Alice continues through Sunday, June 28, at Phoenix Theatre, 100 East McDowell.