Monday, August 17, 2009

How Now, Dow Jones (FringeNYC)

By Dan

BOTTOM LINE: A newly revised version of a semi-obscure 1968 Broadway musical, How Now, Dow Jones is worth seeing, especially if you’ve ever felt that “they sure don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

Many shows at the Fringe are new works, hoping to gain notice through the festival and have future lives, like Urinetown famously did (a show that started at the Fringe and went on to run for several years on Broadway). How Now, Dow Jones is one of the first shows I’ve heard of that is doing the reverse - after a run on Broadway back in 1968, and six Tony award nominations (and one win), How Now, Dow Jones is now seeking additional attention at the Fringe.

More specifically, this is a revamped, significantly edited version of the How Now, Dow Jones that appeared on Broadway forty years ago. Director Ben West added three songs and some unused dialogue, and he eliminated four major characters, five musical numbers, and the entire ensemble. So a standard two act musical with large production numbers has become a short one-act piece that seems to focus more on the main characters.

Of course, without having seen the full-length version, it is difficult to know how this revised version compares. Kate is frustrated because her fianc├ę won’t marry her until the Dow Jones hits 1,000. Charley feels like killing himself because he fails at everything he tries. While it is clear from the outset that these two will wind up together, I felt that this main story got lost sometimes, and that the stakes weren’t really high enough until much later on in the piece.

That said, I really enjoyed this short, sweet musical. Cristen Paige plays Kate, and is perfectly suited to this kind of “old-school” material; her “Walk Away” is a standout. And as Charley, Colin Hanlon is extremely charming and affable. While there was something about him that seemed very 2009 (as opposed to Paige, who manages to appear very 1968), Hanlon’s “Gawk, Tousle and Shucks” is a delight, with Hanlon’s goofy “aw shucks” faces making the song a high point in the show. The rest of the cast members are great as well, although some seem a little young (so that the most age-appropriate actor seems too old, in comparison). And with one exception, all of them project well with very little amplification. It is a relief to see a musical that doesn’t rely on those annoying headset mics that seem so ubiquitous these days.

The one obvious thing missing from this How Now, Dow Jones is the large production numbers, especially “Step to the Rear.” (Check out bluegobo.com to see Tony Roberts and company sing it on the 1968 Tony Awards. The choreography is by Michael Bennett, who was brought in when the show was out of town but requested to remain uncredited.) The song remains in the show; understanding that it is the most hummable song in the score, West saves it for the end. While the eight-person cast does a great job with it, there still seems to be something missing - it is still an eight-person cast doing a full production number. I think this final song would have succeeded more if it had been the only dance number in the show. There are a few times when the duo of “Dow” (Shane Bland) and “Jones” (Dennis O’Bannion) dance around the stage, as if to make up for the lack of a full dance ensemble. While they are fine dancers, these two simply can’t replace a twenty-person chorus.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend seeing How Now, Dow Jones. It is fun, has great music that is likely unfamiliar to even the most avid fan of musical theatre, and at 75 minutes, is almost over too soon.

(How Now, Dow Jones plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, between 6th Avenue and MacDougal Street. The show is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes long. Performances are Monday 8/17 at 10:30 pm, Tuesday 8/18 at 8 pm, Thursday 8/20 at 8:15 pm, and Sunday 8/23 at 5:45 pm. For tickets and show info visit HowNowDowJones.com and for more FringeNYC info visit fringenyc.org.)

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