Year of the Rooster, Alix Korey and Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

Rooster will set your wings flapping, and Carole King will set your toes tapping!

Year of the Rooster   (3 ½ stars)
Alix Korey   (4 ½ stars)
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical   (2 stars)

If you missed Eric Dufault’s Year of the Rooster last fall when it premiered at The Ensemble Studio Theatre to critical and popular success, you’ve got a second chance now that it’s returned for another run.  Ironically, second chances are what Dufault dangles in front of his sad, pathetic characters like metaphorical carrots in this ‘white-trash tragedy’ of small yet stinging proportion.  Sharply directed by John Giampietro with what may be the most committed cast working in New York today, Year of the Rooster is a story about losers searching for validation in a world whose cruelness doesn’t allow for intangible dreams like hope or success or going to Walt Disney World – Resort.  That the world is cockfighting and that the primary loser in this world works at McDonalds only makes Dufault’s tale ring with all-American authenticity.  But since Dufault’s script is too often clumsy and clunky, Year of the Rooster succeeds primarily due to its top-notch cast who inhabit their roles with a ferocity that’s as frightening as it is impressive.  Thomas Lyons stars as Gil Pepper, a downtrodden, one-eyed, fast food worker who lives with his crazy mother (the frightening Delphi Harrington), argues with his manager who he secretly likes (the hilarious Megan Tusing), and is seeking revenge on his nemesis, Dickie Thimble (a terrific Denny Dale Bess) who runs and controls the cockfighting game in town.  Thomas’ secret weapon in his quest to reestablish his life and acquire some dignity is his prize fighting cock, Odysseus Rex, brought to memorable life by the extremely handsome Bobby Moreno, whose commitment to inhabiting a rooster is worth making the long, schlep across 52nd Street.  Moreno is sensational: funny, insane, metaphysical and ultimately heartbreaking as he brings ‘Odie’ memorably to life as a rooster with wants and needs and feelings – just like the rest of us.

Broadway powerhouse Alix Korey has been working out of Palm Springs and Los Angeles for the past several years, but every now and then she drops in for a show here in New York and it’s always worth the wait.  A veteran of shows like Hello, Dolly!, Ain’t Broadway Grand, and All Shook Up, Korey is known for her sharp, comedic timing and a big, brassy, belt-soprano which can shake foundations and warm hearts in equal measure.  On January 10 at 54 Below, Korey was Celebrating Ethel Merman with her long-time accompanist, Christopher Marlowe, and director, Scott Barnes.  A musical match made in heaven, Korey essayed most of The Merm’s hits with her own style, wit and flair.  Let’s hope Broadway can tempt her back again soon…in anything!

The subtitle for the new musical Beautiful is “The Carole King Musical,’ but it should really be “The Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann Musical.”  At least then there’s be slightly more truth in advertising.  So how’s the show?  The cast is amazing and the song catalogue is fantastic, but as bio-musicals go it’s pretty disappointing.  The dreadful book by Douglas McGrath is connecting material between early hits written by King & Goffin and Mann & Weil when they were songwriting teams working at The Brill Building.  The big, dramatic crisis they hang Beautiful on is that King and Goffin end up getting divorced (gasp!) and King has to start all over again – this time as a solo artist whose Tapestry album ends up influencing the world.  Of course, what they leave out of King’s life would fill a book (King’s actually, she wrote one) or a musical (but not Beautiful).  Did you know Carole King had an album before Tapestry that flopped?  It was Writer released in 1971.  Or that she had two more husbands and two more children?  No, probably not.  And you won’t learn any of those things from “The Carole King Musical” either.

Year of the Rooster plays through February 2 at The Ensemble Studio Theatre (549 W 52nd St, ensemblestudiotheatre.org).  Beautiful – The Carole King Musical plays at the Stephen Sondheim (124 W 43rd St, BeautifulOnBroadway.com).

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