Grimby Morgan Mackay
Curator Matthew Henerson
Jack Keith Vitali
Strangler Markus Potter
Lizzie Joan Miller
Louisa Sarah Brindell
Mattie Lisa Gray
Arnold Rick Ford
Lieutenant Michael Oakes
Musical numbers: “Just Imagine It,” “Waxworks,” “Fill in the Blanks,” “I See You,” “Hall of Infamy,” “There Should Be a Song Here,” “The Chase Is On,” “Night Carousel,” “Something Hidden,” “Peace of Mind,” “Closer By the Moment,” “Clara Sue,” “Living in Wax.”
Waxworks” may well be the first musical about dummies; it is unlikely, however, to be the last one seemingly created by and for them. Willing to go out on a conceptual limb, but unable to keep from falling off, this long-in-development “musical comedy mystery” looks set to go down as a minor entry in the scroll of musical stage follies.
Grimby (Morgan Mackay) is the night janitor at a New York wax museum whose principal rogues’ gallery inhabitants are Jack the Ripper, the Boston Strangler and ax-wielding Lizzie Borden. In the wee hours, these historical maniacs come alive – at least in oddball Grimby’s mind, since no one else can see or hear them. The establishment is lorded over by a noxious curator (Matthew Henerson) who himself is bossed around by his possessive dominatrix lover (Lisa Gray).
When the latter is mysteriously offed just before intermission, a police detective (Michael Oakes) arrives to interrogate everyone, including the amnesiac museum assistant (Sarah Brindell) and a would-be thief (Rick Ford) who sticks around to pose as a wax figure.
This investigation spurs the show’s brightest number, “Something Hidden.” But elsewhere the score leans monotonously on “Phantom”-style Lloyd Webberisms (complete with synthy emphasis from the scrim-hidden live instrumental trio), while lyrics and Steven D’Addieco’s book struggle to find a raucous black-comedy tenor a la “Little Shop of Horrors.”
An occasional line hits the right off-center mark – when one character senses his “dark” side emerging, he croons “Goodbye Rockwell and Wyeth/Hello, Dali! and Munch.” More often, however, the wit here is scattershot and its level is low. It doesn’t help that the script violates its own fantasy logic with blithe frequency.
Despite its alleged 13-year workshopping through staged readings and Upstate New York stock productions, “Waxworks” emerges as a mess that director Roger Bean can’t hope to make coherent. Instead, he opts for frenzy, but the effect is oddly static on a good-looking but rather too cluttered stage design. The cast is an uneven lot, often pushed uncomfortably beyond their vocal ranges; Keith Vitali’s Ripper does boast pipes, and Brindell’s addled ingenue has those as well as honed comic chops.