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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at New World Stages


  Peter Bartlett and David Pittu/PH: Doug Hamilton

Heaven help us all if Jacob Sterling ever hits Broadway. As played to comedic perfection by David Pittu in What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling, a "comedy with vocal selections," Mr. Sterling represents the absolute nadir of musical theater songwriting.

Consider Sterling's college project: a musical of the Goldie Hawn film Private Benjamin. In the title character's big song, she describes how her husband died on their wedding night: "He entered me and pleasured me. He came, then he was gone. He died inside me. Yes, my husband died inside me."

We meet Sterling, a recipient of the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Foundation Genius Grant, on the set of "CLOT (Composers & Lyricists of Tomorrow)," a low-budget cable TV talk show hosted by devoted musical theater queen Leonard Swagg (Peter Bartlett).

Over the course of a 75-minute Inside the Actors Studio interview, we learn of Sterling's progression from "an awkward, young, gay, Jewish American musical theater artist" into a slightly older version of the same thing.

The comedy ends apocalyptically with a preview of Sterling's Broadway-bound musical Shopping Out Loud, a crass celebration of chain retail stores in American malls such as the GAP, Abercrombie and The Body Shop. Previews will apparently soon start at the Jamba Juice Center for Live Human Performances. (We won't even bother discussing Madame Death, his musical adaptation of La Femme Nikita.)

Though the show dips into the same kind of musical theater satire that we've seen before, Pittu's performance keeps it from turning into merely a one-note sketch. With spiked, color-streaked hair and excessive chest hair, he stresses both the absurd comedy and melancholy behind Sterling's determined demeanor.

At the start of the show, we see the following quote from Sterling: "I sometimes feel sick from all the music inside me." After spending 75 minutes with Sterling, you'll feel sick too - but in a good way.

New World Stages, 340 West 50th St, 212-239-6200, $25-65. Mon, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 2 & 8pm, Sun 3 & 7pm. Open Run.


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