‘Regina Comet’ review - featherweight new musical is forgettable fun

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    Date:
    September 28, 2021
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    There is a tantalising, but all-too-brief moment in A Commercial Jingle For Regina Comet when the influence of another musical master can be felt. The number is “Connecting the Dots,” and it’s about writing a song. It most strongly echoes “Color and Light,” Stephen Sondheim’s painfully precise distillation of the artistic process from Sunday in the Park with George, though with a bit of “Opening Doors” mixed in as well: 

        Connecting the dots
        Going note by note
        We’re crossing out line after line
        Untying the knots 
        From the crap we wrote 
        To stay afloat

    One feels, for a moment, a more ambitious and exciting musical struggling to break through Regina Comet’s determinedly lightweight exterior. It could still have been silly, of course — nothing wrong with silly. But that silliness might have mined the insanity of creative partnership, the agonies of the writing process, and the daily absurdities of this business we call show. 

    Instead, Regina Comet feels so determined to be lightweight fun that it ends up leaving no impression at all. The characters are paper-thin; the gags are slight; and the story is nonexistent. Despite some strong performances and an often excellent staging, it’s a cute but flimsy 80 minutes that drifts from one’s mind before you’ve even reached the train.

    An out-of-work songwriting duo (Ben Fankhauser and Alex Wyse, who also wrote the show) are struggling to find a break even in commercial jingles, until pop star Regina Comet (Bryohna Marie Parham) plucks the pair from obscurity to compose a number selling her new perfume. (“You were the cheapest,” explains Comet, whose own star is on the wane.) But soon the longtime duo, bonded at the hip since Jewish summer camp, are turning on each other as one falls for Comet while the other feels shut out.

    Oddly, the duo are unnamed. "Man 2" (Fankhauser) is straight, Jewish, and boring; "Other Man" (Wyse) is gay, Jewish, and awkward. Man 2 is considering giving up writing to become a magician; Other Man takes most of his life cues from his Jewish grandmother, which means being a pain in the ass and never letting a man touch him. We don’t learn much more about them, so it’s hard to get invested in their friendship when it splinters. It’s also not super clear why they fall out, or for how long — as with the character names, a lot is left vague and shapeless in Fankhauser and Wyse’s book.

    Wyse still manages to have a lot of fun. His wry delivery helps land a lot of the cringey Borscht Belt one-liners, and the writhing and squirming of his lanky body is consistently hilarious. Fankhauser is flatter and less appealing, though both sound amazing. The real standout is Bryohna Marie Parham, who is endlessly charming as Regina Comet and steals the show. The book never quite decides if Comet is supposed to be a genius or an airhead, so Parham just plays both, and her endless charisma sells it. 

    Marshall Pailet’s direction keeps things moving nicely, even when the show is running in place. He gets a huge assist from Wilson Chin’s vibrant, colorful set, and Sarita Fellows’s eye-catching costumes. A big highlight is Stephanie Klemons’s inventive choreography, which does a ton with a very small space and concludes the show on a joyous high note.

    Regina Comet has some catchy tunes, including “One Hit Song” and that closing number, “Say Hello.” The show is a fun enough time, and perhaps not meant to be overanalyzed. Still, one of its closing gags hits strangely: Comet reaches for her songwriting duo’s names to thank them, only to realize she never learnt their names in the first place. Silly fun is great, but announcing that none of this really meant anything is maybe a bit too far.

    A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet is running at DR2 Theatre through Nov. 14. Get tickets to A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet on New York Theatre Guide. 

    (Photo by Matthew Murphy)