Review: ‘Imperfect Chemistry’

Often, it's the audaciously imperfect performance that lingers not only longest but fondest in the memory. But while Albert Tapper and James Racheff's "Imperfect Chemistry" is certainly a candidate for the so-bad-it's-good pantheon, sometimes bad is just bad. Aficionados of theater disasters can take heart that the new musical at the Minetta Lane Theater does possess one moment that will have you retrieving your jaw from the floorboards. Unfortunately, it comes late in the proceedings, long after any sensible theatergoer has dozed off or fled.

Often, it’s the audaciously imperfect performance that lingers not only longest but fondest in the memory. But while Albert Tapper and James Racheff’s “Imperfect Chemistry” is certainly a candidate for the so-bad-it’s-good pantheon, sometimes bad is just bad.

Aficionados of theater disasters can take heart that the new musical at the Minetta Lane Theater does possess one moment that will have you retrieving your jaw from the floorboards. Unfortunately, it comes late in the proceedings, long after any sensible theatergoer has dozed off or fled.

Two geneticists, Alvin (Ken Barnett) and Elizabeth (Amanda Watkins), have created a cure for male-pattern baldness that has the unfortunate side effect of causing de-evolution. An incredibly hirsute chorus of four — this is a very Off Broadway production — has taken the drug only to find themselves doing a Neanderthal striptease that’s one for the books.

Curtis Hay’s costumes are masterpieces of Velcro. John-Paul Szczepanski’s lighting brings the strobe out of blessed retirement. And Rob Odorisio’s unit set showcases an “Alien”-style computer that explodes, spins and spurts fog. Director-choreographer John Ruocco’s make-like-a-monkey ballet rivets the attention in the worst way, like an ambulance careening through an erupting mine field.

As the naive geneticist lovers, Watkins and Barnett survive by underplaying roles that give them nothing to do. As the villains who market the drug, John Jellison and Brooks Ashmanskas work hard to induce pity when the laughs don’t materialize.

Tapper’s bland music makes us wish for the return of Racheff’s book, which is so confused it sends us back to the music for relief. And as for the lyrics, “Imperfect Chemistry” breaks some ground. It is certainly the first musical to bring down the act one curtain with the line, “Let’s go grow some hair!”

Imperfect Chemistry

Minetta Lane Theater; 399 seats; $50

Production

A Back to Back Prods. presentation of a musical in two acts with story and music by Albert Tapper, book and lyrics by James Racheff. Directed and choreographed by John Ruocco.

Creative

Musical direction, vocal arrangements and orchestrations, August Eriksmoen. Sets, Rob Odorisio; costumes, Curtis Hay; lighting, John-Paul Szczepanski; sound, Robert Kaplowitz; stage manager, Renee Rimland; Opened Aug. 24, 2000. Reviewed Aug. 22. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Dr. Goodman/ Dr. Bubinski - John Jellison Harry Lizzarde - Brooks Ashmanskas Dr. Alvin Rivers - Ken Barnett Dr. Elizabeth Gibbs - Amanda Watkins
With: Joel Carlton, Michael Greenwood, Deirdre Lovejoy, Sara Schmidt.
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