Shelter: In Concert

| July 3, 2017

Shelter: In Concert

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, June 27, 2017

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Jon Cryer

Presented as a production of Feinstein’s/54 Below Second Act Series (produced by James Horan and Steven Carl MacCasland), Shelter is an offbeat curiosity of sorts, which, as an abridged work, made for a neatly entertaining evening of cabaret. The musical originally opened on Broadway in 1973 for 31 performances. Gretchen Cryer authored the quirky —and often clever– book and lyrics, and Nancy Ford the music, largely derivative of familiar themes, but still very enjoyable in melody and variety. Cryer also abridged the book, creating a special libretto for this abbreviated performance of the work. Perhaps in its full length Shelter was too ahead of its time, but more than likely its lack of success stems from taking on too much. It’s full of Big Concepts, Deep Thoughts and Wide-Ranging Philosophy. Cryer is intelligent and often incisive and amusing in tackling those mysteries people ponder, such as love, male-female relationships, feminism, randomness, free will, truth, commercialism, reality, and God and the Universe. Yet, in trying to make sense of so much that is unknowable, Shelter buckles under the burden of its own weightiness. Ultimately it falls into the morass of cliché – perhaps forgivable in a concert entertainment, but crippling for a full-fledged stage work.

Technology, as a plot device, figures imaginatively into Shelter. Arthur (Jeff Kready), a Hal-like computer with a keen sense of humor, is the epitome of artificial intelligence. Among other skills, Arthur creates for his “friend” Michael (Jon Cryer, son of the co-writer; pictured), a fantasyland worthy of any Star Trek holodeck. He features prominently in the show’s score, especially “Overture”/”Woman on the Run,” a techno-beat folk-rock mashup of a number, with a pleasant, foot-tapping beat (abandoned thereafter for more traditional musical theater compositions). The anti-hero of Shelter is Michael, a neurotic television commercial creator who’s a victim of his own maleness. His “Welcome to the New World” (sung by Michael and Arthur) is his slick spiel, as finely honed as the commercial drivel he writes. But Michael is a cad who’s got any number of women deluded into thinking he’s a misunderstood poster boy for sensitivity. The heroine, Maud (Sally Ann Triplett), is an actress whose husband has just walked out on her. She breaks down during a commercial recording session conducted by Michael’ s front man, The Voice (Scott Clare), screaming her leitmotif – she’s tired of all the crap. Her tirade brings Michael out of hiding to soothe her. Considerably mollified by him, she believes she’s “Changing.”

Eventually, Michael seduces Maud, craftily working his way through a stockpile of her emotions and vulnerabilities with “It’s Hard to Care” (Michael, Maud, Arthur) and “Mary Margaret’s House in the Country” (Maud, Arthur). Then there’s the morning after: Enter another of Michael’s conquests, Wednesday November (Alyse Alan Louis) sweetly explaining “I Bring Him Seashells.” Inevitably, there is confrontation in “Welcome to a New World” (Michael, Maud, Wednesday, Arthur), leaving Michael to lament “Too Many Women in My Life,” particularly when his wife Gloria (Lynne Halliday) enters the fray. Here marks the end of denial and delusion for Maud and Wednesday with “He’s a Fool” and, for Maud, a return to “real life” with “Goodbye, Plastic Flowers.” At the end, Michael is left to stand alone with Arthur, singing a reprise of the theme from Shelter: “Sleep My Baby, Sleep,” with its very last words the question: “What is reality?”

This new look at Shelter scores A-plus for all the personnel involved with the production. The cast, expertly directed by MacCaslan, and most notably Cryer and Triplett, were sheer perfection in the interpretations of their roles and in their vocal abilities. Cryer especially excelled at reaching through the various layers of Michael’s persona to achieve a well-fleshed-out characterization. Instrumentalists Matthew Bennis on keyboard/synthesizer, Jennifer Gravenstine on cello, and percussionist Zachary Eldridge were top-notch in aiding Musical Director and pianist Horan to create a satisfying, full-bodied sound. Feinstein’s/54 Below Second Act Series is thus to be commended for selecting works that deserve not to be forgotten.

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Category: Musical Theatre Reviews, New York City, New York City Musical Theatre Reviews, Off-Broadway Reviews, Regional

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