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NY Theater Reviews

NOT REALLY A BARGAIN

By Bill Stevenson

Attention, shoppers. You'd be wise to skip Walmartopia- This is a musical spoof that falls short in the spoofing aisle

A musical that satirizes Wal-Mart sounds promising enough, even to those of us who live in New York City and have seldom set foot inside the retail mega-store(s). As it turns out, however, sitting through Walmartopia is about as enjoyable as waiting in an interminable checkout line behind an elderly woman paying with pennies. In other words, despite the cast's efforts, this topical tuner isn't fun at all.

First produced in Wisconsin several years ago and then staged at last year's Fringe Festival, Walmartopia aims to be both campy and political. It doesn't succeed on either front. The book, music, and lyrics-all written by the husband-and-wife team of Catherine Capellano and Andrew Rohn -tackle serious issues like Wal-Mart's lack of unions, low pay, and tough negotiations with overseas suppliers. The heroine is Vicki Latrell (Cheryl Freeman), who is frustrated that she keeps being bypassed for a promotion. Her daughter Maia (Nikki M. James) is even more disgruntled. While Vicki and Maia are believably earnest characters, the Wal-Mart execs are cartoonishly two-dimensional. (Naturally, they've set their sights on world domination.) Even more over the top is Dr. Normal (Stephen DeRosa), a mad scientist who invents a time-travel device that predicts what consumers will want in the future.

The songs are equally conflicted. Some are saccharine (When I look at the open sky, I know I've got to fly, Maia sings), and others are just dopey (We're big, We're really, really big, the smug suits croon). As those brief samples suggest, the lyrics are seldom clever. Making matters worse, the tunes aren't catchy either.

Director Daniel Goldstein seems to have encouraged very broad performances filled with mugging, and Wendy Seyb's antic choreography is busy but blah. Pretty much the show's only bright spots are Freeman's and James' strong, soulful voices. Unfortunately, their assured solos provide the only pleasurable moments in this unfunny, poorly packaged musical spoof.

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