Parents. If you don’t see enough of them in real life (yours or otherwise), just turn to sitcom families like the Bradys, movies like “Daddy Daycare,” or hundreds of magazines and blogs. Now, they are finally and triumphantly featured in a new musical sketch comedy, Rated P for Parenthood, at the Westside Theatre Upstairs, which opened February 29.
Sure, parents have been featured in Disney family musicals and serious shows like Next to Normal, but let’s face it: parenting is hard enough without resorting to sugar-sweet children’s material or somber dramas. What about a modern, hilarious musical for people who just want to have some fun? The perfect night out for parents (or anyone old enough to laugh at the plights of parenting) is Rated P.
Though there is no real through-plot, the musical and comedic vignettes follow general milestones that are as predictable to follow as the Hasbro board game of Life: birth, school, teen years and, finally, college. Yet, the segments themselves are by far more unpredictable and entertaining than any board game or movie night at home, thanks to witty songs and scenes, excellent design and scene transitions, and a wonderfully versatile cast of four.
The variety of songs and scenes are the perfect party playlist and set the mood for your night out. Fairly simple, mostly up-tempo music by dynamic duo Dan Lipton and David Rossmer (Matchbook; co-creators of Don’t Quit Your Night Job) spans all genres from rap, country, rock and standard musical theater fare. Meanwhile, Sandy Rustin makes her debut as a lyricist/librettist with material that is so true-to-life that you are nodding and laughing along at the hilarity in the familiarity.
The show seems like a less-spontaneous, parenting-themed version of “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” complete with a skillful band and effective choreography by Rachel Bress (TV’s “Pan Am;” “Sex and the City”). Audience favorites include a funky white-boy rap and a couple of rockstar numbers that feature parents who dream of letting their hair (and pants) down when they fantasize over crushes or send the kids off to camp.
Occasionally, the show is truly touching with sweet numbers that remind you how parents really do tend to love kids and kids (eventually) love them back. More often than not, though, the spoof-y “Saturday Night Live”-style sketch comedy and lively numbers will have you wishing for a second act.
Yet, this fast-paced one-act show, which comes in at under 90 minutes, is just the right length for an entertaining night at the theater, mostly due to the smart design, fast pacing and innovative scene changes. The basic set features tiled screens which, when lit using Michael Gottlieb's (Lysistrata Jones) design, provide bright washes for the flexible playing space. Multifunctional chairs and tables make up the rest of Steven Capone’s design and become anything from a labor and delivery bed to a car. These pieces, along with Jeena Yoon’s simple props, are manipulated easily by the actors to bring many settings to life in a matter of seconds.
Director Jeremy Dobrish’s (Signs of Life, The Joys of Sex) seamless and meticulously planned staging is full of entrances and exits to allow for dozens of costume changes (Emily DeAngelis, Myths and Hymns) that transform them into parents, teachers, kids and others in the orbit of a parent’s universe.
The audience remains completely engaged even during longer scene changes because of two creative transitions. First, two monitors built into the top of the proscenium show hilarious text message exchanges between parents (think auto-correct), and second, short commercial-like sketches present PSAs (“Parent Service Announcements”) that keep the audience chuckling. The show moves so fluidly from scene to scene that you are never left yawning or checking your watch during your night at the theater.
And what better group to hang out with on your night out on the town than this versatile cast of two men and two women? Joanna Young (The Drowsy Chaperone; Grease) has a bright voice that suits, oddly enough, both endearing motherly roles and teenagers equally well. Meanwhile, Chris Hoch (La Cage aux Folles; Shrek) and David Josefsberg (The Wedding Singer; Grease) cover the gamut of male roles.
Hoch is best as caricatures of adults like a headmaster and a coach. Josefsberg, on the other hand, often plays a teen but can also be an incredibly sweet husband, like in “Morning Love Song.” Together, they share some of the best segments, especially the aforementioned rap number about, of all things, a parent-teacher conference.
More than all others, though, Courtney Balan ([title of show]; The Marvelous Wonderettes) is sensational. She has perfect comedic timing, whether dressed as a feisty grandmother or nervous mom interviewing at a preschool. Her expressive voice brings tears to your eyes in a young mother’s prayer to her deceased mother, and her hilarious operatic “Driving in D minor” is a showstopper. With each actor covering so many roles, it’s like you partied with a cast of thousands instead of just four and you love each unique personality that you meet along the way.
In the end, though, the lights come up at the Westside Theatre and the Parenthood party comes to a close. Soon enough, you’re back to the reality of arguing with your parents and kids or worrying about braces and homework. Thanks to Rated P for Parenthood, you can think back to all those skits and (hopefully) smile instead of stress - and there’s no better souvenir than that from your night out.
Photo credits: Carol Rosegg
Official website of the show: www.ratedpthemusical.com
Rated P for Parenthood, by Dan Lipton, David Rossmer and Sandy Rustin
Westside Theatre Upstairs
407 West 43rd Street, Manhattan
Book and Lyrics: Sandy Rustin; Music: Dan Lipton and David Rossmer; Direction: Jeremy Dobrish; Choreography: Rachel Bress; Scenic Design: Steven Capone; Costume Design: Emily DeAngelis; Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb; Sound Design: Jill BC DuBoff and David Sanderson; Projection Design: Chris Kateff and Richard DiBella; Prop Master: Jeena Yoon; Musical Orchestrations and Arrangements: David Rossmer and Dan Lipton; Music Director: Meg Zervoulis; Production Stage Manager: Cambra Overend; Production Supervisor: Production Core.
With: Courtney Balan, Chris Hoch, David Josefsberg, Joanna Young.