Book and Lyrics by David Kelly; Directed and Produced by David Kelly
Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 6.17.18
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
by Eleanor J. Bader on 6.12.18
The cast of Anxiety Stew.
BOTTOM LINE: A zany but slight musical send-up of a New York City psychology practice that focuses on dietary anxieties.
Anxiety Stew centers around therapist Feather Rosenblatt (acted with great physical humor and comic timing by Nicole Pietrangelo), a middle-aged New York City resident whose fledgling practice is narrowly focused on food-related anxieties. Eager to build her clientele, Feather links up with Groupon to offer a first session for a paltry $5.00. Perhaps, she and office assistant (Jason Tyler Smith) scheme, this will entice newcomers to become regulars. Together, they sing “Hooray for Groupon Day” and set the stage, so to speak, for an influx of whiners and anguished souls.
But instead of a hearty and nutritious meal, Anxiety Stew is more a tiny morsel, where one scene after another follows just one trajectory: A client enters the therapy room—two chairs and a small table with a huge blow-up of a Goddard College diploma on the back wall—while Feather sings to herself. Said client then briefly explains his or her problem and quickly begins to belt a tune that provides supplemental details about the problematic malady. In some scenes, back-up singers provide additional vocals and reprise conventional song-and-dance routines.
Aside from the straightforward and repetitive format, there’s another problem. While the on-stage band, called the Stew-Nods, is made up of excellent musicians, they are too loud for the venue and drown out many of the lyrics, making much of what is expressed inaudible. It’s a pity, since it’s clear that there is tremendous musical talent on display, with Camilo Estrada (as rapper Calvin May, T-Meat, and Orlando), Mallory Campbell (rocker Wilma Rivets), and Alden Gagnon (lounge singer Vomma) as particular stand-outs.
What’s more, Anxiety Stew works overtime to be inane, and the satire is over the top. Dominic Carangelo (Scott Duell) is plagued by dreams of swimming through a sea of cannolis, while Cyrus Berger (John Furey), a southern-accented baseball player, dreams that he is draped in hot dogs when he goes to bat. For her part, hard-drinking Rockstar wanna-be Wilma is plagued by a recurrent flashback in which “a fossil working at Katz’s Deli” refuses to put provolone on her pastrami sandwich. Her outrage over the restaurant’s refusal to mix dairy and meat—something that would violate the Kashruth laws that the Jewish-style eatery obeys—is expressed in ”Katz Don’t Get Provolone,” a rousing number sung by Wilma, Dominic, Orlando, and Cyrus that straddles the line between anti-Semitism and camp.
Feather, predictably, remains impassive as she listens to each client’s dreams, complaints, and worries. Her recommendations, when offered, range from the impertinent to the ridiculous, but always include a full-price follow-up session. Mercenary to the core, when she and Carlson eventually concoct a plan to enhance future profits, it comes as little surprise. At the same time, it’s nauseating. Like a dinner of bon bons and eclairs, Anxiety Stew leaves viewers craving something substantial to sate their hunger for comedy with bite.
(Anxiety Stew plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, through June 17, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with an intermission. Remaining performances are Tuesday 6/12, Wednesday 6/13, and Friday 6/15 at 8:30; Saturday 6/16 at 3:30 and 8:30; and Sunday 6/17 at 3:30. Tickets are $35-$40 and are available at cherrylanetheatre.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
Anxiety Stew is written, directed, and produced by David Kelly. Choreography by Josephine Kelly. Lighting Design by Colleen Doherty. Sound Consultant is Alex Korolov. Stage Manager is Kali Delia. Graphic Design by Julian Kelly.
The cast is Nevada Brandt, Mallory Campbell, Scott Duell, Camilo Estada, John Furey, Alden Gagnon, Nicole Pietrangelo, and Jason Tyler Smith. The Stew-Nods band members are Jack Kline, Greg Koerner, Camille Johnson, Steve Olejarczyk, and Andrew Whitbeck.