Friday, August 17, 2018


I get invited to a lot of shows, and it's not always easy to decide which ones to see. Often I rely on a familiar name: if person A is directing or person B is acting or person C wrote the music, I know I'm likely to enjoy their contribution, at least. But then there are the shows that have no familiar names. In those cases, I make decisions sometimes almost at random, knowing I'm taking a chance.

Blair Medina and Alec Irion
Photo: Michael Kushner

So I took a chance on Heist! for the simple reason that I love heists. Oh, and the theatre is walking distance from my home. I wasn't optimistic, but I was open to having a good time.

And, I'm glad to say, I had a very good time. Heist! is uneven and needs some polishing, but the basics are there: decent plot, some good songs, a strong sense of what is being spoofed. And this particular production has two huge pluses: director James Will McBride and choreographer Jenna Haimes. McBride keeps the piece moving along at a perfect clip and helps his performers find that silly-musical-comedy sweet spot of overacting just the right amount. Haimes manages to make excellent original choreography out of cliche steps, with some fun quoting of famous shows (I caught Chicago and A Chorus Line, but I suspect there are more).

The story is pretty basic, as it should be: in order to pull off a heist, some con artists get parts in a new musical starring an actress who always wears her incredibly valuable necklace when she performs. (Unfortunately, the actual heist is not shown, which I found disappointing, though I imagine many audience members won't mind.)

Christopher Bober and Claire Leyden
Photo: Michael Kushner

The characters are pretty basic as well, again as they should be. They include the con man who is talked into doing one last heist, his cynical partner, the moody diva, the fey director (a little too fey, really; it comes across as dated and marginally homophobic), the cheap producer, and so on.

The songs are a mixed bag. The music (Michael Uselmann) is somewhat generic, which is fine for a spoof, but it would have been nice to have a little more individuality. Most of the lyrics (Alex Koceja) are quite good--e.g.:
I see technicolor spectacle,
Climactic and didactic but
Digestible, accessible,
A classic, irrepressibly
Dramatically fanatic and
Maniacally motivic
Undeniably significant in
Every way!
His version of a "I don't love you (but I really do)" song is great fun. And you've got to admire someone who musicalizes Equity rules. Some of the lyrics need work (I could definitely live without "you cut me down and slayed me/you cut me up and filleted me"), but on a whole, Koceja does a really good job. And his libretto is full of successful silliness and humor.

The cast is also quite strong, with some excellent voices and dancing. I would imagine that a few of the performers will have good careers. (The cast is made up of Kable Barnhart, Christopher Bober, James Cella, Chandler Converse, Javier’ Fox, Alec Irion, Claire Leyden, Blair Medina, Patricia Sabulis, and Alicia Thomas.) On the other hand, some of the performers could use to enunciate more and project better.

What Heist! needs to go from good to excellent is, IMO, some trimming. The first act feels long. And the ballad "You Walked Away" in the second act stops the show dead, but in the wrong way.

Overall, though, Heist! is a silly, entertaining, fun evening in the theatre.

Wendy Caster
(press tickets, 8th row)
Show-Score Score: 85

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