Written by Greg Edward and Andy Sandberg; Directed by Andy Sandberg
Off Broadway, New Solo Show
Runs through 4.19.15
Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street
by Shani R. Friedman on 4.8.15
Christina Bianco in Application Pending. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Christina Bianco shines as she showcases her impressive talents as an impressionist, performing over 40 characters in this solo comedy.
New York audiences likely know Drama Desk nominee Christina Bianco for her work in NEWsical the Musical and Forbidden Broadway. But Bianco has picked up a huge national following thanks to her diva impression videos (in which she does Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Kristin Chenoweth) that have wracked up more than 20 million hits on YouTube. This show, about the high stakes world of private school admission for kindergartners, is about less glamorous figures but is a world that is arguably more vicious and brutal.
Christine Evans has been suddenly and unexpectedly handpicked from her job as a kindergarten classroom assistant by the headmaster, an obnoxious blowhard, to become the head of pre-primary admissions at Edgely Prepatory Academy, which caters to students in grades K-8. It’s the kind of school where students are referred to as “heritage-rich,” not minorities. She’s replacing Debbie, who as we learn through a series of phone calls from the DEA and Homeland Security, had been using the school for various side projects, including making crystal meth and running a dog fighting ring.
Christine needs this job because she’s newly single (her ex, Richard, or Randolph as he goes by online, is a tool) and parent to Devin, who’s expecting her to take him out for a Halloween pumpkin fest that night. But before she can do that, she has to talk to Clatyon’s mother, who can’t be bothered to get recommendation letters but has no less than George Clooney and The Pope calling to sing his praises, a PETA organizer protesting the treatment of the school’s mascot (a beaver), a soft-spoken widowed father trying to get a scholarship for his son, the stoner caterer handling that night’s bash Christine has just learned about, and the financial aid counselor who is Native American and gets huffy with her over her use of the words “chief” and “war path.” All in all, it’s a rough day that gets progressively worse: at her lowest moment she throws up on the Build A Bear (creepily wearing the same outfit as Christine) that one of the more demanding, haughty prospective mothers has sent to encourage the school to accept the “Pygmy” child she brought back from her travels.
The set up that Edward and Sandberg have created is deliberately over the top, but its believability isn’t strained thanks to the Bianco’s humor and warmth. Her ambition is to be a teacher, not, as her friend Trish puts it, “controlling the fate of the children of the 1%.” The trio has made it easy to root for her to get the happy ending she deserves.
Of course, what brings people to the show is Bianco’s gift for voices. In the first couple of minutes of the show alone, Bianco inhabits a half dozen people of varying genders, ages and races, demonstrating a pretty flawless mastery of the technique. She seamlessly jumps from person to person while answering the office phone, headset and her cell, aided only by the lighting changes and sound cues from Jeff Croiter and Bart Fasbender respectively, which are employed subtly but adroitly. Although Bianco uses very few props, Colin McGurk’s set is rich with details, such as an Edgely pennant on the wall, the mini pumpkins adorning the windowsill, the tiny chairs for students and the toy on her desk that sings "Monster Mash."
For people who haven’t gone through the hand-to-hand combat that is the admissions process, the subject of the show may not fully resonate. It didn’t entirely click with me, although it was funny and engaging. But I was completely hooked by Bianco, who is amazing to watch.
(Application Pending plays at the Westside Theatre through April 19, 2015. Performances are Mondays and Tuesdays at 7PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM and 7PM. Tickets are $79 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200.)