Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical

Musical
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Editorial Review

'Pepe' at Home at Fringe Fest

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's two weeks before opening night, and the cast of the Capital Fringe Festival's "Pepe! The Mail Order Monkey Musical" is still making do without a finished set, costumes or props. Worse, Rick Hammerly, the Helen Hayes Award-winning actor who plays the titular primate, is out sick, having been replaced -- for the show-stopping number that includes the lament "What Am I Doing in This Box?" -- by musical director Brian Wilbur Grundstrom and -- for his poop-flinging escape from the aforementioned shipping container -- by co-choreographer Nora Lockshin.

Nevertheless, the music and vocal performances are almost shockingly polished, and not only for a Fringe show, which this most definitely is.

Based on the real-life experience of local glass artist Tim Tate -- who as a 9-year-old in the late 1960s sent $19.95 for a live squirrel monkey, only to have the animal wreak havoc on his mother's bridge club -- the musical by filmmaker Jon Gann, founder of the D.C. Film Alliance, is an at-times-funny, at-times-poignant meditation on freedom. It also has been given a somewhat happier ending than the actual story. The show may be all Gann's, as Tate is quick to point out, but that doesn't stop Tate from providing a quick promotional blurb. "It's 'Les Miz,' " he says, "with a monkey."

-- Michael O'Sullivan