Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Jun 11, 2014
09:14 AM
Stage Write

MTM's 'You're the Flop' Isn't

PHOTO BY DAN MYERS

Hey, Look Me Over: Ryan McDowell and Rylie Butzbaugh-Patrick light up MTM's You're the Flop.

Music Theatre of Madison’s original production You’re the Flop—playing June 12–14 in the Bartell Theatre—is full of clever and creative touches, but the best one is a projection panel on the stage’s back wall. Before the show begins, it flashes quotes from theater critics who savaged the list of failed Broadway musicals from which the show draws its revue/score. 

Good thing I’ve never been that cutting or unkind to a show (Ahem.)

Once the show begins, those slides shift to show the details of these so-called “flops,” shows like Wonderland, Wildcat and Smile, everything from the number of performances before the ax fell to the number of flop checklist items (financial, critical, creative and expectations) each show managed to nail.

It’s an interesting way to look at the definition of “flop,” which, as this show so entertainingly demonstrates, is anything but straightforward when it comes to the strict and exacting demands of the Great White Way. But rather than simply string together musical selections from these Broadway bombshells, co-creators  Meghan Randolph, Catie O’Donnell and Robby Sandler have used them to create a touching story of a group of five artistic types looking to mount their own Broadway show —a show they hope is “a big success, and not a mess like Chess.

Following The Writer (Cody Luck), The Director (Kelsey Yudice), The Actor (Ryan McDowell), The Actress (Rylie Butzbaugh-Patrick) and The Producer (Karen Moeller) on the journey from getting the green light and enduring jitters on opening night to critical despair and, yes, creative redemption gives an insightful look at why people are willing to keep risking failure and humiliation. As Moeller’s Producer succinctly puts it, “the highs are so incredible.”

And so, in this show, are the songs. Even though they’re pulled from shows that failed, tunes like “Until Tomorrow Night” from Marvin Hamlisch’s Smile and “When There’s No One” from Carrie, Broadway’s biggest-ever commercial flop, sound sweet and beautiful. In between the songs, each of the show’s five characters shares interesting pieces of theater-flop history. The whole thing ends up playing like the best mini-course on failed Broadway musicals ever.

The cast, meanwhile, does a great job of singing—and selling—the story. The looks of agony and devastation on their faces as the acid-soaked reviews roll in, leading into a great why-us? rendition of “Good Thing Going” from Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, is one of the show’s most touching moments.

The acoustics in the boxy Evjue Stage are generally kind to the performers, although some of the solo numbers had minor skirmishes with echoes. The cast’s enthusiasm and stage command carry the day: Luck and Butzbaugh-Patrick throw themselves into their vocals, while Moeller nails the broad drama of her character.

With a running time of scarcely more than an hour, You’re the Flop is the very definition of brisk entertainment—songs flow effortlessly into each other, with nary a gap between the spoken vignettes and the next musical number. At no point does the pace feel rushed or stilted. By the time the cast breaks into the optimistic uplifting “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” from [title of show] –a musical, coincidentally, that Madison Theatre Guild will stage next year—you realize you’ve learned as much as you’ve been entertained. And it’s not every show that can say that.  

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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