Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Theater Review: Fingers and Toes

Location: Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official New York Musical Theatre Festival site

Starring: Leo Ash Evens, Jonathan Monro, Stephanie Gibson

My Review: Taking inspiration from Singin’ in the Rain, Fingers and Toes tells the story of two friends who collaborate to create a new musical, and the talented woman who brings the whole thing to life. “Toes” McGrath is a dancer and the mastermind behind the whole operation. After running into a major Broadway producer in a restaurant and pitching him an idea for a show that doesn’t yet exist, he enlists the help of musician “Fingers” St. Claire to get the production put together in a matter of weeks. After a series of auditions they find triple-threat Molly and seem to be on their way to creating the next big Broadway sensation.

But of course all three bring various dramas and hang-ups with them, causing the creative process to be anything but smooth. Toes is loud, brash, juvenile, and a total womanizer. Fingers is morose and suffering from a bout of depression and agoraphobia brought on by his dissolving marriage. Molly is sunny and bubbly on the outside, but secretly feeling weighed down from carrying on a relationship with an indifferent man. None of them are really in a position to write a musical about love—because what else would you write a musical about?—but that doesn’t deter them from going for it.

Fingers and Toes is a new musical that tries to sound and feel like an old musical, but winds up stuck somewhere between the two. The songs are old-fashioned toe-tappers and sound like they could have come straight from a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney collaboration. Even the overlying concept is as traditional as you can get: Get some friends together and let’s put on a show! While there’s nothing wrong with favoring classic musical concepts, Fingers and Toes loses its way by trying not to be too old school.

A handful of modern day references are made, lest you think this is taking place in the past: a joke about Amy Winehouse, everyone has a cell phone, and more than a few f-bombs are dropped. But the show would have been better served by keeping the old-fashioned concept in an old-fashioned time. Hearing a giddy vaudeville-style tune like the opener “Anyone Can Write a Song” sets a specific tone for the production, so that hearing the characters later talk in graphic detail about Toes’ sexual prowess is a bit jarring.

The best part of Fingers and Toes are the numerous well-choreographed dance routines. Leo Ash Evens as Toes and Stephanie Gibson as Molly are both gifted dancers and make excellent use of the limited stage space at Urban Stages. The performances get a bit hackneyed at certain points, as the cast tries in earnest to use the overly broad acting techniques of days gone by, but they continuously redeem themselves when permitted to bust out their dance moves.

Bottom Line: Though cute and entertaining, enough Fingers and Toes is a bit of a choppy, and ultimately forgettable, mess. Each of the elements work separately—lightweight songs, corny jokes, elaborate dance numbers, a hat tip to musicals of the 1930s and 1940s—they somehow don’t mesh together well in this production. Every moment either feels too broad (when aiming for comedy) or too heavy (when aiming for drama). This lack of cohesion and absence of at least one memorable tune make Fingers and Toes a show that you wouldn’t actively dislike, but ultimately struggle to remember.

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