Off-Broadway Review: RELAPSE: A NEW MUSICAL (Theatre Row)

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by Gregory Fletcher on September 7, 2023

in Theater-New York


Presented by Howard Alter and Tom Giachetti of Gotta Believe Theater Group, Relapse: A New Musical by J. Giachetti (Book and Lyrics) and Louis Josephson (Music and Additional Lyrics) opened last night at Theatre Row for a limited three week run. Sheryl Liu‘s set has six blue chairs in a semi-circle, surrounded by flowing material. We are at a rehab group therapy session, led by Dr. Carlisle (Troy Valjean Rucker) with a primary caregiving Nurse Margot (Ashley Alexander). The four patients: Newbie Adam (Jacob Ryan Smith), who’d injured some people in a car accident, is battling alcoholism; Outgoing patient Bryan (Randall Scott Carpenter) is struggling with bulimia; Kendra (Becca Suskauer) is an arsonist; and Melinda (Mia Cherise Hall) is schizophrenic. Even with some great music by composer Louis Josephson, if there is group therapy for theatergoers, you may need it after watching this superficial outing.

The other four cast members are the nagging, aggressive voices in the patients’ heads, appropriately named the Intrusives (Vinny Celeiro, Audree Hedequist, Nicole Lamb, and Zummy Mohammed). It may sound like a fun, theatrical concept, but for a musical that deals with issues of addiction, isolation, and mental health — admirable and worthy themes — the Intrusives are directed in the style of musical comedy instead of musical theatre. Reputable director and choreographer Joey McKneely, with many fine credits and successes to his name, pushes their performances as if they were performing at Radio City. And Mr. Celeiro, oddly dressed by Liu in a belly shirt, is being pushed as if to perform at the MUNY, the largest outdoor theater in North America, seating 11,000. Their presence in this intimate 99-seat theater space is a constant interruption to the stakes of the musical.

The stand-out performance belongs to Randall Scott Carpenter who fully embodies Bryan, the most believable struggling mental patient onstage. Other performances certainly have moments to admire, especially when they sing, but none are served well with the pushed direction and J. Giachetti‘s clichéd dialogue, situations, and on-the-nose textbook reporting. Even the confrontation between the Doctor and Nurse Margot isn’t fully realized. She accuses him of traits we never see. Clearly, they’re both trying their best in a difficult situation, and he even shares some of the hospital politics that are forcing his hand, but for someone who overtly preaches compassion, Nurse Margot has little of her own. Plus, they’re both way too sincere and supercilious for winning over the patients.

Josephson is the star of the show; his composing is every bit as exciting as Jonathan Larsen’s work. Whether in groups or solos, the music is impressive, and I anticipate great things to come for Mr. Josephson. Under Music Director Jordon Cunningham, the band positively rocks, and the cast shines bright with stellar voices. (Five songs are on Relapse‘s Concept Album.) Giachetti’s lyrics, better than his book, are at their best when one of the four patients is singing a soliloquy, and the director leaves them alone. A duet with Adam and Bryan, “To Be A Man,” is lovely and shows great promise.

You may wonder during 95 intermissionless minutes if the rebellious four patients will end up confronting their demons and embarking on a path of recovery, ending in a circle, holding hands. But you’ll definitely have to ask your own Intrusives to shut up while watching.

Jacob Ryan Smith (as Adam) and Randall Scott Carpenter (as Bryan)

photos by Thomas Mundell | @MundellModernPixels

Theatre Row – Theatre 5, 410 West 42nd Street
three-week limited engagement
ends on September 23, 2023
for tickets ($27.50-$57.50), call 212.714.2442×45 or visit Theatre Row

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Marjorie Tilson September 11, 2023 at 5:45 pm

I totally disagree with this review. I was totally engaged the entire 99 minutes. The music and story were powerful and dealt with a difficult subject in a respectful way. I love the intrusives and the way they deal with each character. Adding a little humor helped with the difficult topic. Also the psych lingo used was authentic. Each cast member played their part perfectly. Their beautiful voices singing the 18 amazing songs left me speechless. Many people in the theater had tears in their eyes. J. Giachetti wrote a brilliant show with meaningful lyrics. Louis Jospehson’s music makes me hope they come out with a cast album soon. Go see this musical and make your own decisions before relying on mediocre reviews. I promise you will not be sorry. I am seeing it again with friends on Saturday! This show is the real deal!!


Tony September 17, 2023 at 2:19 pm

I agree with Marjorie. I just saw the play and thoroughly enjoyed it. The 95 minutes flew by as the intensity grew in the performances and music. A difficult subject approached with originality, personality, and empathy. I highly recommend it!

I disagree with Fletcher’s review.


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