The stage of the tiny Abingdon Theater is crowded with 10 likable, down-home folks relating the tale of "The People vs. Mona," described by producers as a "musical mystery screwball comedy."
The stage of the tiny Abingdon Theater is crowded with 10 likable, down-home folks relating the tale of “The People vs. Mona,” described by producers as a “musical mystery screwball comedy.” While the results are neither spectacular nor groundbreaking, this descendant of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” delivers a hootin’ good time.C.C. Katt, a ne’er-do-well skunk of an offstage character, is slaughtered on his wedding night. Found at the scene is his newly minted bride Mona’s pink electric guitar, smashed over his head, along with her wedding gown (splattered not with blood but with the Yoo-hoo with which her groom had been celebrating). This makes an open-and-shut case for ambitious D.A. Mavis Frye (Karen Culp), an expert prosecutor up against hapless defense attorney (and narrator) Jim Summerford (Richard Binder). Mavis is running for mayor and also is engaged to Jim; that’s the way things go in small-town Tippo, Ga. All this leaves poor Mona (Mariand Torres), proprietress of Tippo’s only watering hole, the Frog Pad, in dire straits. On top of which, as she relates in her big ballad, “The Lockdown Blues,” she’s “falling in love with my lawyer, and he’s never won a case.” Songs come from Jim Wann, one of the co-authors of the long-running 1982 hit “Pump Boys.” The numbers have a country twang and a humorously offbeat quality; at one point, the three-piece Frog Pad band of actor-musicians backs up a ballad with — literally — ribbits. Wann also serves as co-librettist with his wife, Patricia Miller. Book and score are all of a piece, with a liberal sprinkling of groaners. The four secondary actors double and triple, with various zanies brought in for a song and a scene. (Like Patel, the Indian proprietor of the Santa Clause Motel.) While this sort of thing can become wearing, the effect here is cheerfully endearing. Binder is engaging in the central role of the seersuckered attorney, Torres does fine as the accused murderess, and Culp completes the triangle as the smug D.A. David Jon Wilson is likable as a parking enforcement officer, Natalie Douglas and Marcie Henderson sing up a storm in two roles each, and Omri Schein provides four broad but winning comic sketches. The band is ever-present — playing, singing and acting small roles. Director Kate Middleton keeps the comedy bubbling on Travis McHale’s amusing and effective set (which doubles as bar and courtroom). This musical is not exactly new; it was first staged in 2000 at the Pasadena Playhouse and has seen a few productions in the interim. On the basis of this belated New York premiere, “The People vs. Mona” looks to be a crowd-pleaser on the stock and amateur circuit. Meanwhile, it should please quite a few patrons at its home on West 36th Street. And where else in Manhattan, other than at the intermission bar, can nostalgic Southerners find a cold Peach Nehi or a bottle of diet Cheerwine?