The latest musical produced by the Vineyard Theatre (which launched Avenue Q) is one of the quirkiest, most offbeat Off Broadway shows in years. It also boasts innovative animated projections and a terrific cast.
Slug Bearers is most notable for its charming drawings by Ben Katchor , whose work has been seen in The New Yorker and other magazines. His drawings create a colorful, idiosyncratic world where his eccentric characters are right at home. Katchor wrote the libretto, and Mark Mulcahy composed the simple, often pretty music.
Early on the music is a little too simple, and the lyrics a little too repetitive. But this odd, original show becomes more appealing as it goes along, thanks in part to the striking set and projection design by Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg.
The story involves a young woman named GinGin (Jody Flader ) who lives with her wealthy father, Dr. Rushower (Peter Friedman), in a Manhattan penthouse. Rushower frequently fixes up GinGin with men, but without any success. She does have a phone relationship with a mysterious, sexy man named Samson (Matt Pearson). When some strawberry ice cream falls from their terrace and lands on Immanuel Lubang (Bobby Steggert), he is invited up to the penthouse for a drink. He and GinGin learn that the metal slugs used to weigh down phones are manufactured on faraway Kayrol Island, where the workers who transport them are badly paid. The pair travel to the island to try to improve the workers' lives, with unexpected results.
Besides having a rather off-putting title, Slug Bearers' quirkiness probably isn't for everyone. (For instance, Lubang's passion in life is reading instruction manuals for old appliances.) And while some of Mulcahy's songs are nicely lyrical, others are meandering and overlong. Fans of Katchor and graphic novels will be enchanted, though, and the clever animated design should appeal to just about anyone.
The cast is also quite appealing. Flader, Steggert, and Pearson all sing beautifully and inhabit Katchor's world convincingly. The other actors (including Stephen Lee Anderson, Will Swenson, and Tom Rils Farrell) don't get to sing the show's prettiest music but do the best with what they have.
Bob McGrath directed the very unified production, and John Carrafa is credited as choreographer. But there's almost no dancing in the show as far as I can remember. Maybe I was too busy looking at the cool animated projections and missed it.