Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! (FringeNYC)

By Dan

BOTTOM LINE: A sweet, fun, and often hilarious musical that may well be one of the must-sees of this year’s New York Fringe Festival.

ICanHasCheezburger.com is a popular website that basically consists of photos of cats accompanied by funny captions, many of which are grammatically incorrect (this “lolspeak” both parodies internet slang, and serves endearingly as the “thoughts” and “words” of the cats in the pictures.) Why on earth would it occur to anyone to make a musical out of such material? I have no idea, but fortunately for us, it occurred to Kristyn Pomranz and Katherine Steinberg, and the result is I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!

I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! is quintessential Fringe - a very silly musical made from unlikely source material. But while some shows seem to rely solely on a strange premise or enticing title (the cynic in me feels that the more interesting the title, the less interesting the show), I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! actually delivers. It is incredibly sweet, and often hilarious.

The show begins with one woman showing her friend (and the audience) the ICanHasCheezburger.com website. All the while, her own cat lusts after the cheeseburger sitting on her desk. She decides to take a picture of him, and soon he is uploaded into internet world (where he is called Lolcat, and can now talk and sing), on his quest to find his true love, a cheeseburger. Along the way, Lolcat meets various characters, including Drop (another cat who also hopes for a cheeseburger), Lolrus (a walrus who yearns for a bucket), and Jodie (a mouse who wants someone to love). The characters are all inspired by ICanHasCheezburger.com and its related websites, and the show is frequently augmented by projections of the photos found there.

To be sure, these photos (and their captions) are essential to the show. Without them, the show wouldn’t be so funny (and most likely, it wouldn’t make much sense). The projections are extremely well-timed and well-placed. (Important - make sure to sit close enough so that you can see the top of the screen and fortunately there is a projection up when you walk in so you’ll be able to tell). Indeed, the biggest laughs come from the various photos; one could argue that the projections are really the core of the show, and everything else is just filler. But ultimately, I think the show works because both halves (the projections and the book-score-performances) work together incredibly well. I’d argue that each half depends on the other.

The cast is uniformly good. Seth Grugle is adorable as Lolcat- the “everycat” of the piece. Vincent DiGeronimo is also great as the cuddly Lolrus, although I had a difficult time understanding many of the lyrics in his songs. And then there is Bryan Welnicki, who plays Drop, a cat who sits under a box waiting for a cheeseburger to fall from the sky. He only has one song, but Welnicki gives my favorite performance in the show.

I also loved the story to this musical. Yes, this is a standard “quest” plot line (in this case, the quest is a Cheezburger). But if it isn’t sophisticated, it doesn’t need to be; the story held my interest, and I even liked the ending. If anything needs work, it is the score. While many of the songs have clever lyrics, the music is not very interesting. I enjoyed Jodie’s solo “Someone to Eat Cheese With” (Carly Zien has maybe the strongest voice in the cast), and the closing number “Tasty Taste of Love” is a terrific finale, and the best song of the show. But aside from these two exceptions, most of the music is more or less forgettable. In fact, I think that with better music, this show could be incredibly successful in a commercial off-Broadway engagement.

But even with a mediocre score, I had a great time at I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! I laughed a lot, and had a smile on my face the entire time. Judging by the response of the (sold out) audience around me, lots of other people liked it as well. This is one of the few Fringe shows I’d recommend to everyone- if you are open to having a silly, light-hearted good time, you’ll enjoy this. And it isn’t just for cat lovers (although I must admit that yes, I wrote this review with a cat on my lap). I wouldn’t be surprised if it returned for the Fringe Encores series in September. But in case it doesn’t, try to make one of the remaining three performances (and buy soon!). Most Fringe shows have something worthwhile about them. But very few provide as much pure enjoyment as I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL!

(I Can Has Cheezburger: The MusicLOL! plays at the Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street between 7th Avenue & Hudson Street. The show is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes long. Performances are Tuesday 8/18 at 6:15 pm, Wednesday 8/26 at 9:15 pm, and Friday 8/28 at 4:45 pm. For tickets and show info visit icanhascheezburgerthemusiclol.com and for more FringeNYC info visit fringenyc.org.)

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