"It's not easy to make ends meet with a growing drag queen to raise," sighs poor Mrs. Angellotti. She's had to pawn her iron to get money to keep her son in Schiaparelli gowns because he's been cursed by gypsies, and his girlfriend has traded in her letter sweater for black boots and is turning tricks to give him cash for clothes. In fact the whole thing is a nightmare.
In fact the whole thing is called "Nightmare!!" and deservedly so. Harry M. Bagdasian, producing director of the New Playwrights' Theatre, ate too much Welsh rarebit a few months ago and in the deep sleep that followed conceived the idea of reviving this musical, which was a big hit for the theater in December 1977. It should be a big hit again.
Bagdasian persists in calling this show "zany," an overused word that is nonetheless appropriate in this case. Zany, according to Webster's, means "fantastically or irrationally ludicrous." For a show that manages to combine a band of dime-store gypsies, a chorus line of nuns and priests, a "Spaghetti Jamboree" and a high school football hero who starts wearing high couture to the games, any other word would be inadequate.
"Nightmare!!" is Tim Grundmann's creation. He must have misspent his youth moored in front of a record player listening to musical comedies during the hours he was not imprisoned in a Catholic school. His parodies of show standards are so deft that the songs could stand on their own (if you have a slightly warped mind, that is). One wonderfully upbeat ditty, modeled after the familiar chase-the-blues-away-things-are-gonna-get-better number, is called "Don't Get Your Hopes Up," and in a sprightly tempo warns that things are not gonna get better, they're gonna get worse. (The song comes after Father Paul has been taken off to the "Priest's Pen" for fixing the church bingo game so that Mrs. Angellotti could win the grand prize -- a trip to Lourdes.)
In "Arrivederci, My Little Iron," Mrs. Angellotti mourns her parting from the faithful appliance that has served her so well in her laundry business, and promises it a new life ironing silk and lace in a rich person's house. "Spaghetti Jamboree" reminds one of "This Was a Real Nice Clambake," or some similar Rodgers and Hammerstein happy-group song. "Where is My Handsome Knight?" is the epitome of the lonely girl's lament.
A venture like this would fall flat on its grinning face without a cast equal to its ridiculous demands, and New Playwrights' is fortunate to have found a group of eight performers with sufficient talent to play everything from Catholic school kids to a radio. Jan Frederick Shiffman as Zoltan The Gypsy, Fredric Stewart as Henry (the boy cursed to be obsessed with women's clothes), Juli Cooper as his incredibly pert girlfriend, Tanis Roach as the mother and Barbara Rappaport as so many characters, are all wonderful and embrace this aberrant enterprise with the enthusiasm it deserves.
NIGHTMARE!! book, music and lyrics by Tim Grundmann; directed by Ken Bloom; choreography by Anne Reynolds Day; lighting by Richard Moore; set by Russell Metheny; Costume design by Henry Carter Shaffer.
With Frederic Stewart, Juli Cooper, Tanis Roach, Dan Curry, Jan Frederick Shiffman, Anthony "Chip" Brienza, Barbara Rappaport and Amelia Esten.
At the New Playwrights' Theatre through Aug. 30. Picture, Amelia Esten, Jan Frederick Shiffman, Barbara Rappaport and Anthony "Chip" Brienza in "nightmare!!"