Charlie Takes A Wicked Funny Ride
T: An MBTA Musical, music and lyrics by Melissa Carubia, book by John Michael Manship, ImprovBoston, 6/30/11-7/9/11. http://www.improvboston.com/shows/musical?ref=slide. Mature Themes. **Warning: should not be viewed by kids, pets, bikes, and particularly tourists and freshmen (we need people to keep coming to Boston, and they don’t need to know the truth until it’s too late!)
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
Most people have been there at one time or another: the T (translation for non-Bostonians–the subway). For those who know it is a frustrating experience that makes you want to hop in your car and drive to the country or Rhode Island. Delays, fires, sports fans, and vomit are all familiar sights on that are highlighted in the hilarious new musical at ImprovBoston–T: An MBTA Musical. If interactive/improvisational theatre scares you, don’t worry: this is a scripted show. This show makes you laugh until it hurts; then, you are not so angry at the train on the way back–until the train stands still for twenty minutes because of a fire on the rail.
T: An MBTA Musical follows in the footsteps as Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and “Once More With Feeling” from the tv show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This snarky, sarcastic musical follows three hapless MBTA passengers who want to bring down the T and the T employees who will stop at nothing to stop them. Charlie (played by Brendan Mulhern), the famed passenger from the old folk song and the namesake of our fare card, sets the action in motion by singing “The MTA Song”. This leads to the passengers “Letters of Grievance”.
Alice, played by Emily Hecht, comes from a long lineage of MBTA criminals; she is grateful that she has not fallen victim to her family’s curse and get out of Boston–if she can only get off the MBTA. Alice has a treasure map that could bring down the T but only decides to use when she meets fellow twenty-somethings Michelle and John and she becomes a fugitive of the MBTA Cops. Hecht has a strong voice and personality that makes her a formidable opponent against anyone. Her strong mezzo voice and comedic timing help the audience feel safe on this wild, side-splitting ride.
Michelle, played by Sarah Tupper, feels that she has been branded as a subway slut because of a drunken night of partying that led to a regrettable hook up with the frat boy played with precision by Eric Rehm. Michelle believes that no one will love her for who she is because the T stops running at 12:35am. Michelle meets John and there is attraction, but she is afraid he is just another immature frat boy that is going to drag her down. Tupper looks like a typical college party girl but also has an innocence and quirkiness that belie that first impression. Tupper is able to mix strength with fragility both in her action and voice. These qualities allow her character to initially accept, then reject, then accept again John’s advances.
Patrick Parhiala is a cross between Nathan Fillion and Ashton Kutcher; he has pretty-boy good looks but allows himself to look foolish and pathetic as John. John is a former frat boy, who has yet to shed all of his immature habits; his life was messed up because his bus never arrived and he could not go to his interview. He sees Michelle and they are instantly attracted to each other, but he feels like a loser because he was never able to recover from that tragic day when he missed his interview. He finds new strength when he, Alice, and Michelle join forces to take down the T. Parhiala has such a charming personality and voice that even when his character acts like a stereotypical guy, we realize he just slipped back into his old frat boy ways and deserves a second chance.
Their nemesis, the T-Cops (Leslie, Nielsen, and Lance), run around like the Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny. Their feeble attempts are thwarted at every turn. The cops, played by Deana Tolliver, Timothy Hoover, and Alex LeBaron, have to answer to the “Big Boss” (aka the general manager of the month) played by Ray O’Hare. O’Hare first appears during “The Shuttle Song”, which takes its structure from Chicago‘s “Cellblock Tango”. O’Hare’s boss is both smooth and bungling. He finds himself in the ranks of Mr. Burns, Boris Badenov, and Doctor Claw. He directs his minions to use all of the tricks in their arsenal from express trains to shutting down the trains and implementing shuttle buses to stop those “meddling kids”.
The songs have clever lyrics and melodies reminiscent of several different musical styles. “The Letters of Grievance”, “If They Could Only See”, and “The Threesome Song” show off Melissa Carubia’s musical skill with complex counterpoint. Although it has some rough edges, Melissa Carubia and John Michael Manship could easily join the hilarity of their contemporaries: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Robert Lopez, and Joss Whedon. If ImprovBoston decides to find a venue for a longer run, it will have no problem selling out for an infinite amount of time. We have all been there; we’ve all had at least one moment of frustration on the T. Whether it’s the erratic schedules, drunken fans, overfilled buses, or incoherent stop announcements, T: An MBTA Musical slyly sings the words felt in every Bostonian’s heart. TNETG. 7/2/11.