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Review: Mister Wives at Onyx Theatre

Updated: Mar 20, 2019

The trouble with many original scripts is that they’re prematurely put into full production. They haven’t gone through the tedious process of table reads, workshops, and public readings. But, you’ve got to give props to anyone who promotes original works - it’s how we get new plays. And you never know… the next Doubt or Book of Mormon could be in the offing.

The new musical comedy Mister Wives, with book and (we’re assuming) lyrics by Natalie Shipman (who also directed), and music by Mark Wherry, is a parody of the cable television show “Sister Wives” — with a twist ending. It has a lot of potential but, unfortunately, isn’t ready for the stage.

The show opens in present day with a 27-year old man who is not familiar with a major, well-known plot arc of Star Wars…well, it’s just not realistic. There are plenty of other instances, and more believable “what ifs” should be mined.

The play is brought down by slow pacing. Musical comedy needs to be sharply timed, with quick pacing, or jokes fall flat. There’s a fine-line balance that needs to be walked in order for parody to work. The overall cannot be too silly nor too serious. The cast needs to telegraph a wink to the audience while everything is delivered with proper believability. If we don’t believe the characters or situations are real, we can’t connect and we can’t care what happens.

Ryan Hess as Marty, husband No. 1, has moments when he hits the mark. He delivers a quick expression, sometimes a single word at the audience that lets us know this is all silliness. He’s enjoying the role but at the same time the true emotion of character is present. His football player machismo is delicately underlined with hints of homoerotic interest in his fellow “brobands,” adding layers for a three-dimensional character.

Husband Christopher is a pot-head and Eric Angell has fun with the role but doesn’t remain consistent. In musical numbers the slow-moving, sluggish, and drug-addled character is suddenly replaced with quick wit and perfectly coordinated steps. Realistically he’d be a beat behind and bumping into things.

When Mick Axelrod, as John, has his numerous breakdowns as the downtrodden rock star are over the top and seem to come from nowhere. The frustration doesn’t build over time.

As Rob, the newest husband in the collection, Gerald Hallowell looks completely lost. Dialogue is rarely delivered with emotion. When he declares he’s angry and jealous there are no vocal inflections or body language to support the claim. The pathos we’re meant to experience for his plight never materializes.

Shana Brouwers plays the role of matriarch and wife, Kady Abraham, and presents the majority of her songs front and center, while the man (or men) she is supposed to be connecting with are upstage and behind her. The emotional impact is lost because she’s not directing the lyrics toward the intended character.

The perfectly designed and decorated set by Stephen R. Sisson feels homey and warm, yet the masculine touches fit the theme of husbands dealing with all things household.

The program notes don’t credit choreography. The stage of the Onyx is small but doesn’t explain the clichéd and stilted movements given to the cast.

While un-credited costumes brought smiles and even a few laughs, details are important and we wish the same attention had been paid elsewhere. Skimping on production values, particularly in an intimate venue, is never good. For instance, Chris is the only husband without a wedding ring, and the honeymoon photo album contains no pictures. Pretending to eat ice cream from an obviously empty carton, empty-looking and hollow-sounding roasting pans, and eating non-existent food from an empty plate only serve to yank an audience out of the moment.

If playwright Shipman goes back to the keyboard, and puts a tightened script into more capable directorial hands, Mister Wives could find itself in the company of shows like Nunsense and Menopause: The Musical.

What: Mister Wives

When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and through November 28

5 p.m. Sunday November 22

Where: Onyx Theatre, 953-16B E Sahara Avenue

Tickets: $21 - $24 (702) 732-7225;

Producer: Off-Strip Productions; Producing Director: Troy Heard; Director: Natalie Shipman; Musical Director: Mark Wherry; Scenic designer: Stephen R. Sisson; Lighting Designer: Derek Shipman; Stage Manager: Cory Covell; Floor Crew: Max Dalvey, Amanda Gaston

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