Serrano the Musical Review - Rocking The Matrix

Edmond Rostand meets David Chase by way of Seth McFarlane in Serrano the Musical, currently rocking the Matrix and likely to continue.  Madeline Sunshine and Robert Tepper’s Mafia-skewed update of Cyrano de Bergerac isn’t without its flaws, but try telling that to the audience.  As crowd-pleasing works-in-progress go, this one goes all out to realize its intention.


Serrano COMPANY (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

Which is to give Rostand’s deathless romantic drama a sitcom-inflected, song-and-dance permeated overhaul, relocating Cyrano, Roxanne, Christian and the rest to New York’s Little Italy in the present, during the Feast of San Gennaro.  Under Joel Zwick’s mobile direction, it opens with three hoods and a nun (James Tabeek, Tom G. McMahon, Craig McEldowney, and the valiant Valerie Perri), a recurring Greek (or rather, Italian) chorus.  They set us up for La Festa Di Tutti Le Feste, a sprightly tarantella that incorporates the whole company in an extensive parade of types -- stereotypes, really -- that is cartoonish and catchy at once, courtesy of music director Jeff Rizzo and choreographer Peggy Hickey, whose contribution throughout is top-notch.


Serrano (Back Row) Craig McEldowney, Valerie Perri, Chad Borden and Barry Pearl; (At Table) Chad Doreck, Suzanne Petrela and Tim Martin Gleason (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

It also sets up Sunshine’s plot, of which there is a lot.  Serrano D’Angelo (resonant Tim Martin Gleason) is the large-schnozed, poetry-spewing fixer for Don Reyo (Peter Van Norden), the local boss.  Beautiful though inhibited Rosanna Spumonte (lovely Kristina Miller, in for Suzanne Petrela at the reviewed performance) is the daughter of a judge in a case Don Reyo wants dropped.  Studly but lunkheaded Vinnie Pepperini (Chad Doreck, a genuine find) is Don Reyo’s nephew, and the key to the Don’s plan.  That is, if Serrano can turn Vinnie into a gentleman worthy of Rosanna’s attention.  As in Rostand, this is complicated by Serrano’s own secret love for her.


Serrano Chad Doreck, Suzanne Petrela and Tim Martin Gleason (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

That would be more than enough for most musicals, but there’s also a subplot involving Nickie (Chad Borden, having a field day), Don Reyo’s estranged gay son, a female impersonator.  While this permits a couple of campily entertaining drag numbers, it doesn’t exactly jive with the main event.  Conversely, the presence of Don Malafonte (Matthew Henerson), a rival mob boss, Lily Reyo (Perri), Nickie’s strumpet sister, and Sophia Spumante (Perri again), are more integrated to the narrative but also pull it into side alleys that don’t always lead smoothly back to the central story.


Serrano Chad Doreck and Tim Martin Gleason (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

Furthermore, there’s no shortage of musical comedy tropes, cable-TV profanity, hokey jokes, and a slew of songs from lyricist Sunshine and composer Tepper that range from excellent to faintly generic.  That large tunestack curiously prohibits the maximum in character development.  As in the title character, whose cultured, poetic nature never quite feels convincing as a hit man, the concept taking precedence over internal logic.  Nor does Vinnie have the full range he might, since Act 2 shifts focus from his tutelage by Serrano to Serrano’s involvement with Rosanna, not to mention the reversals of the rival gangs.


Serrano Tim Martin Gleason, Suzanne Petrela and Chad Doreck (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

Still, it’s a generally enjoyable diversion, with plenty of wit and no small measure of ambition. Where Serrano particularly shines is in its execution and production values, which are highly polished for a small-theater staging.  Stephen Gifford’s set, Italian flag-colored curtains framing central floor-show-surface, is another of his resourcefully effective jobs, as are Leigh Allen’s ripe lighting, Michael Mullen’s swank costume parade, and Byron Batista’s wigs, hair and make-up, all fine.


Serrano PETER VAN NiORDEN, TIM MARTIN GLEASON (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

And the large ensemble, many of whom play multiple roles, gives it their all.  Gleason is perhaps a shade too huge-voiced for the small space, but his commitment is evident.  Miller is charming in her shift from introspective to va-va-voom, and Doreck is hilarious, a scene-stealer from his introductory Do You Want Me? onward.  Their colleagues all acquit themselves well, with Perri’s Be A Broad a particular show-stopper, and the choral blend is sometimes thrilling.  If Serrano doesn’t always match up to its Broadway-bound aims, the pleasures of this troupe’s company go a long way to making the audience an offer it can’t refuse.


Serrano Suzanne Petrela and Tim Martin Gleason (Photo by Brian McCarthy)

Serrano the Musical, Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends March 29.  $34.99.  (323) 960-7774 or  Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


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