Theater Review: TINY LITTLE TOWN: A NEW MUSICAL (Theatre Movement Bazaar at Broadwater Theater)

Post image for Theater Review: TINY LITTLE TOWN: A NEW MUSICAL (Theatre Movement Bazaar at Broadwater Theater)

by Nick McCall on February 3, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles


Theatre Movement Bazaar’s Tiny Little Town, a new musical comedy now playing at the Broadwater Main Stage, starts out with a bang. The entire company gathers to perform the opening title number, done in the style of a 1970s variety special, begging for people to come visit. With more choreography than usually seen in small theater, it builds to an exciting, manic climax, promising an invigoratingly radical take on Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 Russian play, The Government Inspector.

Ishika Muchhal, Paula Rebelo, Kasper Svendsen

Alas, this turns out to be merely a TV advertisement, never to be mentioned again. What follows instead is not a variety show, but a straightforward adaptation of Gogol’s play, albeit set in the US during President Gerald Ford’s administration.

Isaiah Noriega, Eddie Vona, Jesse Myers, Mark Doerr,
Lamont Oakley, Kasper Svendsen, Joey Aquino

The story concerns a small, generic American town, where the mayor, judge, health commissioner, school superintendent, and everyone else is corrupt. They get word that the federal government is sending an inspector, which makes everyone extremely nervous. They don’t know who it is, but they eventually agree that it’s a man named “Konner”, who is actually just a con man staying at Hotel Wit’s End.

Eddie Vona, Jesse Myers, Mark Doerr,
Ishika Muchhal, Paula Rebelo, Kasper Svendsen, Prisca Kim

When adapting a 188-year-old satirical play to here and now, I expect to recognize specific issues happening today. It doesn’t have to be one-to-one, but there should be a shock of recognition. Richard Alger and Tina Kronis’s toothless adaptation never goes harder beyond the idea that people are corrupt. Even character names don’t have the bite you’ll find in Gogol. As for the 1970s setting, it’s limited to stray references like Richard Nixon and Carl Bernstein.

Lamont Oakley, Nikhil Pai, Jesse Myers, Mark Doerr, Ishika Muchhal, Paula Rebelo

Songs, music by Wes Myers and lyrics by Alger, were fine. Lyrics were serviceable, but could benefit from some rethinking. There’s a song where the two subordinates complain how their value is ignored: “For each number 1, there’s a better number 2,” yet the lyrics ignore the delicious comedic potential of that line. The energetic final song, after everyone has been exposed, feels like a cop-out: “We can’t be what we’re not … Don’t blame us or shame us. The system’s made that way.” However, the biggest problem with the songs is that Myers chose to base them on Eastern European music. Nothing wrong with that, except the show is a period piece set in 1970s America. It’s out of place. Might as well keep the original’s Russian setting. The only time we get place- and period-appropriate music is ‘70s pop instrumentals played before showtime and during intermission.

Ishika Muchhal, Paula Rebelo

In addition to writing, Kronis was also director and choreographer. While the opening was wonderful, her direction did not maintain its high energy through dialog scenes. There are bits of comic business sprinkled throughout, as if to inject some life, but too much of it is random and felt like milking for laughter. One character, after a nothing moment in an unexceptional scene, exits by rolling on the floor — the only time in the show this happened. Some people laughed, but I thought it was unearned. Choreography did not always make sense; at one point, Joseph, the con man’s buddy, is being grilled for information by the mayor’s family, but he dances in unison with them, as if he’s part of their group.

(back) Eddie Vona, Jesse Myers, Mark Doerr, Lamont Oakley, Joey Aquino, Isaiah Noriega,
(front) Ishika Muchhal, Paula Rebelo, Kasper Svendsen, Prisca Kim

The cast was a mixed bag, with most players giving somewhat stilted line readings, as if, as an ensemble, they hadn’t decided to be stylized or naturalistic. Only Isaiah Noriega (Bobson), Eddie Vona (Dobson), and Paula Rebelo (Anna Rasmussen, the Mayor’s wife) looked at ease with the material, comfortable with the lines and pushing for silliness. Ishika Muchhal (Maria Rasmussen, the daughter), with nose piercing and tattoo, looked too knowledgeable of the world to be a naïve teenager so easily wooed by a con man. Joey Aquino’s interpretation of the Postmaster was fine until the con man’s honest letter at the end described him as a drunkard, when nothing in his performance suggested any alcohol at all. And why is Mayor Rasmussen (played by Kasper Svendsen) the only character with ridiculous hair?

Jesse Myers, Mark Doerr, Lamont Oakley, Kasper Svendsen, Prisca Kim

Ellen McCartney’s costumes are lovely and evoke the time period, but they weren’t designed with the characters in mind. In a satire like this, it’s common for broad characters to dress as their professions, but the judge, commissioner, and superintendent here all have interchangeable costumes. It was difficult for me to tell the difference between them. They looked like regular dudes, undercutting the complaint that they are corrupt officials.

Ishika Muchhal, Paula Rebelo, Nick Apostolina, Kasper Svendsen

Even though the Broadwater Main Stage has 96 seats in six rows, the production was amplified (sound by John Zelewski). The actors wore ugly face microphones, some of which were pointed at their eyeballs. There were dropouts, the canned music overpowered the voices, and songs were significantly louder than the unamplified dialog scenes. In an interesting contrast, actress Prisca Kim’s mic was tangled in her hair, so she was, effectively, unmiked. She was easy to understand and showed that microphones weren’t needed. Just hang the speakers behind the actors and turn the music down a little.

(back) Eddie Vona, Joey Aquino, Isaiah Noriega, Lamont Oakley, Jesse Myers,
Mark Doerr, Prisca Kim, (front) Paula Rebelo, Kasper Svendsen, Ishika Muchhal

The opening night audience was friendly and ready to laugh, but laughs were scattered and clumpy. The audience reaction, much like the show, never unified. Perhaps the cast will get more relaxed throughout the run. I’ll be interested to see if the work gets revised for future productions. It would be a shame for it not to live up to its strong opening number.

photos by David Haverty

Tiny Little Town — A New Musical
Theatre Movement Bazaar
Broadwater Theater Main Stage, 1078 Lillian Way in Los Angeles
Thurs – Sat at  7:30; Sat and Sun at 2:30
ends on February 18, 2024 EXTENDED to February 24, 2024
for tickets ($15-$22), visit TMB (Pay What You Can, Sun, Feb 11 at 2:30)

Leave a Comment