Isabel Rose is a charismatic performer, and if she were in the ensemble of a show written by someone else, she might be one of its highlights. Currently, however, she’s going it alone in “J.A.P. Chronicles, the Musical,” a one-woman tuner she wrote and composed based on her novel, published last year by Doubleday. Rose obviously has creative energy to burn, but her DIY project is a stark reminder that unchecked ambition can be disastrous.
For one thing, Rose has a flair for physical comedy and a decent alto but not the range as an actor or singer to evoke a cast of characters. She ostensibly plays six women — all former attendees of a Jewish summer camp, now gathered as adults for the camp’s reunion — but there’s hardly anything in her perf to distinguish the characters.
Though she tries on several accents and gives each woman a repeated hand gesture, she just reiterates the same shrill persona half a dozen times. Plus, her limited vocal range means everyone sings alike, too.
Costume designer Dona Granata only makes it harder to tell the women apart and follow the story by keeping Rose dressed in the same outfit for the entire show.On the other hand, the story hardly begs to be followed. Rose has written a predictable redemption story centered on Ali, a filmmaker who was physically abused by her fellow campers and now wants to make a documentary about how useless they’ve become. In other words, she wants to prove they’re all JAPs — Jewish American Princesses — those stereotypical Jewish girls who love shopping almost as much as marrying rich men.
Anyone familiar with storytelling will guess where Ali’s headed the second she sings the opening number, “Thank God I’m Not One of Them.” We’re clearly in store for a revelation that she is like the women she hates and that no one is as terrible as we imagine them to be. And don’t forget the moral about how hurtful stereotypes are.
If Rose’s songs were charming or inventive, it might be easy to forgive her schematic plot and mindlessly enjoy the stream of numbers about manicures, artistic ambitions and forbidden sex. But the tunes are as interchangeable as the characters, with the pre-packaged melodies aping every convention from the 11 o’clock ballad to the sultry vamp.
Rose’s lyrics, meanwhile, are memorable only for their awkward rhymes and ludicrous metaphors. When one woman bemoans her wedding day, for example, she complains, “I hate my dress, I hate my mom/I wish that she would move to Guam.” Later, Ali regrets her materialism by saying, “Because of a shirt, I thought I was cool/Because of a shirt, over bullies I rule.” Even after careful consideration, that line still doesn’t make sense.
Director Carl Andress does what he can to keep Rose active, and she certainly commits to her work with unflagging energy. Ultimately, though, no amount of effort can rescue this misguided mess of a vanity project.