Top of the Heap
Off-Off Broadway, Musical
Location: The Gallery Players
by Darron Cardosa
David Perlman and Kenny Wade Marshall in Top of the Heap. Photo by Bella Muccari.
BOTTOM LINE: An original musical with a few problems and a lot of heart.
I went into The Gallery Players' production of Top of the Heap
really wanting to love it. An original musical by William Squier and Jeffrey Lodin, the tuner tells the story of two comedians in 1955 New York City who are struggling to find success in the cutting-edge medium of television. The Gallery Players has always been a champion at producing great shows that deserve another look in New York City. Kudos to them for offering an original show like Top of the Heap
, but unfortunately this production didn't quite reach the top for me.
I found most of the music to be a bit at odds with itself. It was as if the performers and the band were fighting against one another, making for a sound that seemed a little off. I kept waiting for a melody that I could really hear. At the risk of sounding too much like that character from Merrily We Roll Along
, I wanted a "tune I could hum." Sometimes the keys seemed too low for the singer and I just wanted them to be raised a step or two. A few songs did stand out though; "The Guys to See" and "You Know the Way" were both easy to listen to and sung quite well. The ensemble, who often seemed tentative, really pulled it together toward the end of the show with "Something Real" when the whole cast sings what I thought to be the best performed number in the show.
The story itself is pretty straightforward. As the two comics try to gain national exposure by appearing on the big television show "Top of the Heap," they are told what they can and cannot say on the air. When they question whether to go with their gut or the censor, it is a wonderfully tense moment...I cared about what was going to happen. Other than that though, a lot of the material seems over-dramatic and I questioned how and why some things happened. For example, one scene takes place in a cemetery for no reason and another character inexplicably shows up in the same cemetery with no explanation of why either person was there to begin with. One character becomes attracted to another without the audience ever seeing why she would fall for him other than the plot needed to be driven along.
The two leads, Kenny Wade Marshall (Ronny) and David Perlman (Gil) have a lot of weight on their shoulders with this production. Maybe in a better show these two guys could shine brighter. Marshall has his moments, but like his character, he tries too hard. He has good comic timing and a great chemistry with his partner, but his character came across as desperate and it was hard for me to see where the character stopped and the actor began. Perlman also has his moments, and Gil has more to go on than one-dimensional Ronny. In Gil's song "Tell the Girl Goodbye" the audience really sees a connection to the lyrics and music and Perlman makes some great acting choices. When Wade and Perlman are together on stage, it's obvious they share a mutual admiration, and this makes the audience root for their success.
In the comic role of Coochie, Lorinne Lampert gets the most laughs in the show. She sings her songs well, is always fun to watch and reminded me of Broadway actress Karen Ziemba. She is likable and I wish her story line would have gone somewhere. Whenever she was on stage, you could count on her to get the audience to laugh, like when she explained she was taking a calligraphy class for when she gets "too saggy to dance." The other female standout is Hollis Scarborough who plays Meryl, the female singer on the television show. She exudes 1950's glamour and and sophistication and displays a very sweet voice in "You Know the Way."
Director Neal J. Freeman does a capable job of getting the actors to where they need to be. His clever use of two black and white television screens to show what is happening on the tv program makes for an interesting visual. Set changes were a bit clunky though, and every time a curtain was pulled out on a roller track, it was way too loud to hear what was being said on stage. Surely these things will iron themselves out as the run goes on.
Should you see Top of the Heap
? Yes, you should. Although it is not the best production that The Gallery Players has offered, they always present their shows with 100% heart. The cast and crew in Brooklyn give it their all and they are all proud of their work. It's fantastic that a theater like The Gallery Players exists, where actors at all different stages in their careers can do shows that they want to do. This cast has credits ranging from off-Broadway to national tours to New York City debuts. Many people who have performed at Gallery end up on Broadway, so by seeing this show today, you may be seeing the Broadway star of tomorrow.
(Top of the Heap plays through November 15 at The Gallery Players, 199 14th St. Park Slope, Brooklyn. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. The show runs 2 hrs. 30 min. with one 15 min. intermission. Tickets are $18 for adults and $14 for seniors and children under 12. For tickets visit ovationtix.com. For more show info visit galleryplayers.com.)