The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

  • Our critic's rating:
    June 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    This is just a ridiculous production. It is the true – always the kiss of death when this is emphasized – story of the Wiggin family from New Hampshire. The three girls, Dot (Jamey Hood) Wiggin), Helen (Emily Walton) and Betty (Sarah Sokolovic) form a band in 1969 under the extreme guidance of their father Austin (Peter Friedman).

    The Shaggs sound is, in a word, terrible, and herein lies a major problem. These three actors have lovely voices and understand accapella singing. They are lyrical and a pleasure to listen to. When the real Shaggs song is played back after the recording session, it sounds nothing like these women. Granted there are a few moments when their at home rehearsals and performances at the local town meeting hall sound a little off, a little defeated and depleted. But then they sing together about life and its difficulties, and they shine.

    Another problem is that we have to watch Peter Friedman, an excellent actor on any day, drive himself and his family to distraction as he promotes The Shaggs as if his life depends on it, because he believes it does. Austin is manic in his obsession and gets the feeling that he hears the voices of the actors rather than the voices of the real Shaggs. His devotion is inexplicable, period. Eventually he drives himself and his family batty, and they begin to resist in their own ways. Even his wife Annie, (Annie Golden) is driven to a fabulous solo that shines brighter than any of the other numbers as she mourns her Ordinary Day.

    The family lives in what appears to be a rec-room with sliding doors to a storage closet. It is dark and dreary in New Hampshire and the sun never ever breaks through. Everyone, including the girls, knows The Shaggs are an embarrassment. What they lack in talent they more than make up for in perseverance, though. When Austin says Jump – they do: over and over and over again. Helen is the only one who rebels outright, and even she is cowed by Austin’s thundering passion.

    When all is said and done, Austin departs the planet without the success of which he dreamed. Years later, in 1981 the Shaggs were rediscovered, but naught came of it because there was nothing there to begin with.

    The story of the Shaggs is a sad tale worthy of a few beers on a rainy afternoon. This creative team clearly saw more, but, like Austin, their vision was short sighted.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "The show, sensitively directed by John Langs, lags at times.... But at its best, it's a melancholy look at a delusional tyrant, and girls searching for their own voice. "
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Proudly composed in the key of Be Flat, ...lacks a single hummable tune. And yet it’s remarkably -- insistently -- memorable. "
    Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

    "This is not a perfect musical.... But it possesses a raw, authentic energy and powerfully depicts real lives."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "Grim, humorless, irony-free."
    Robert Feldberg for The record

    "A joyless and increasingly dispiriting event." Michael Sommers for Newsroom New Jersey

    "Unsettlingly off key."
    Steven Suskin for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom New Jersey - Variety