The cast of UNLOCK'D. Photo by Richard Termine photographed at The Duke on 42nd Street.
BOTTOM LINE: A madcap and entertaining, if somewhat hackneyed, look at gender roles and social class in 18th-century England told through poetry and song.
Prospect Theater Company’s production of the 2007 NY Musical Theatre Festival’s “Best of Fest” Unlock’d — the show also received that year’s Richard Rodgers award — tells a familiar tale of sibling rivalry, romantic chicanery, and the grooming of women to be aesthetically-pleasing simpletons. The story revolves around two stepsisters, Belinda (Jillian Gottlieb) and Clarissa (Jennifer Blood), the former “thin in the bodice and thick in the head” and the latter supposedly less comely but in fact bright and beautiful despite being cast in her sister’s shadow. Predictably, jealousy rages, especially when the man Clarissa fancies, Baron Windsorloch (Sydney James Harcourt), joins the endless parade of men seeking Belinda’s hand.
But will the handsome and worldly Baron prevail, or will his smaller and less heroic brother, Edwin (A.J. Shively), a head-in-the-books scholar with little practical experience, win the maiden’s heart? As they sing and dance to explicate their star-crossed love, Sylphs (Maria Couch, Catherine LeFrere and Chandler Reeves), Gnomes (Adam Daveline, Chris Gunn and Hansel Tan), and a maid (Emily Rogers) and gardener (Lucas Poost) frolic, conspire and cause mayhem and merriment.
It’s silly. It’s fun. And you know exactly what is going to happen long before the final song.
Much of the action centers on Belinda’s preoccupation with her precious blonde hair. It’s her pride and joy and her obsessive care of it gives her life its one-and-only meaning. Her confession that she has never wanted anything but to be fawned over — “everyone adores me just the way I am,” she chirps — has given the males in her orbit cause to act superior. After all, they’re out and about, doing and making, while she combs, preens and prettifies. For the most part it works: more than a few male suitors find themselves smitten and seek to obtain a tuft of her curled-to-perfection locks. This acquisition, we learn, is more than just a showcase for trophy-collecting machismo, for it seals the deal and tells the community that the pair intends to wed.
As the antics unfold, Clarissa’s resentment of Belinda comes to the fore and zaniness ensues. Indeed, when a hair extension that Belinda has named Beatrice is unceremoniously yanked from her head — yes, as you likely assumed, Clarissa has a role in its removal — a crisis of enormous, and hilarious, proportions is unveiled. Sylphs search, gnomes gawk, and others ogle the scene to find the missing strands. Edwin, however, sees the dilemma a bit differently: “She lives in a cage of beauty and hair and she needs to be unlocked,” he sings.
Witty repartee, poetic rhymes, catchy, well-sung, songs and perfectly choreographed movements delivered on an elegantly simple set (by Wilson Chin and David Arsenault, with lighting by Cory Pattak and sound design by Kurt Fischer) enhance the farce. Along the way, the lunacy of man as protector and women as protected is slammed, making Unlock’d a comedic romp with bite. It’s a musical to savor, despite the well-trod ground on which it treads.
(Unlock’d is presented by the Prospect Theater Company at the Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42 Street, through July 20, 2013. Remaining shows: July 2, 3, 9 and 10 at 7:30PM; June 28, 29, July 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 at 8PM; June 30, July 3 and 7 at 2PM; and July 13 at 3PM. Tickets are $50, premium seats are available for $65. To purchase tickets visit Dukeon42.org or call 646.223.3010. For more information go to ProspectTheater.org.)