The Duke Theatre contains a bite-size surprise that is The Last Word, A New Musical Comedy directed by Michael Bello and choreographed by Nick Kenkel.
If the Big Bang Theory and Aladdin the Musical had a baby, this would be their sparkling Indian child with lexical and musical genius. The audience is sucked in by an ocean dip backdrop, and the band is set directly upstage of the proscenium floating above the big blue. This musical brings you back home in an instant; the Book, Music, & Lyrics are composed by London-Based film director Brett Sullivan (who produced the live films of Les Misérable, Phantom of the Opera at Royal Albert Hall, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Billy Elliot Live). The lyrics are inquisitive and depict the story of twenty-seven year old Jay who lives above his father’s home-made Indian Restaurant, Paradise. The restaurant fed Jay, his younger sister (a scrabble genius named Santine) and their group of friends well into their approaching adulthood years. With his father gone, Jay put himself in a real pickle; he owes money to almost everyone in town and now Earlene Floyd (a local mogul) wants to urgently collect her debt in full, with the plan to bulldoze down beautiful Paradise and turn in into a generic parking lot (Actress Felicia Finely fiercely claims her spotlight in the rocking race-car number “Parking Lot Queen”).
In a desperate attempt to secure his loan, Jay gives Earlene the deed to his father’s restaurant, with only ten days to come up with twelve thousand dollars (and keep in mind this was in 1976) to save his families’ legacy.
Jay convinces his friends and manipulates his sister (who is at first unaware of his master plan to save the day) to hustle money quick and fast the best way they know how; win at Scrabble for fast cash. The group hustles their way through many different scrabble games, with Earlene on the coat-tails, in order to save Paradise. In one instance, the group first appears to strike quick gold with their plan for an easy win in a scrabble game with a group of senile dementia elderly at an old age home. The scrabble hustler’s second-guess themselves after a debating loss and we hear and see the cast “sort the boys from the men” as scrabble team members basket-weave in and around each other on stage in the second to last round before the lose. (The seniors exit gleefully, chanting “Dementia, Dementia, we are so glad we met-cha!”). There wasn’t a single person in the audience not roaring with laughter to this dark comedic lyrical pun.
Nick Kenkel creates spot on choreography to depict a truest to life scrabble game. Kenkel successfully captures the true energy and physicality that goes into playing this tricky word game, and being an avid scrabble player myself, I can confidently say Kenkel hits the nail on the head.
I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Jain (Santine) and Travis Kent’s (Santine’s boyfriend) spontaneous comedic performance in the dramatic Tango, where Santine sings of being furiously thrilled with Neil finally showing up at her door-step after taking months to move out of Cleveland ( which is far away from Jay and their gang of friends). The musical arch from the singers in this song is unpredictable and the brilliant poetic rhymes, combined with familiarity of the t-a-n-g-o timing, are gorgeous. It is a double-monologue, movement and musical number rolled into one which perfectly captures the tug-of-war essence of Tango in a way that has never been done before.
The Last Word will cause you to think, laugh, and cry (the show also touches on deeper issues of belonging, like what causes us to feel mis-fitted , in the touching tender harmonized song, Left on the Rack). If you think you’ve seen the last of brilliant use of the English language in American Musical Theatre go see Michael Bello’s (director and choreographer) The Last Word.
Thanks to NYMF for the invite!