Office Beat/Charming the Musical

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater
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Office Beat, a new show created by Mindy and Gabe Copeland, is billed as a “tap comedy.” And I suppose that’s as good a description as any. But those words do little to relay the pure entertainment this genre-busting production offers.

It’s true that shows like Contact and Movin’ Out have told their stories through dance and, in the process, raised arguments about whether or not they were musicals. Office Beat’s official description skirts that issue, though it has a more solid claim to be a musical. Unlike their big Broadway brothers, the show features a charming original score by Andrew Van Vlear. (With the exception of one number staged to “The Girl from Ipanema.”)

The slim, but engaging, plot involves an office where the tippy-tap of those dancing feet keeps the morale up and the work progressing. A new hire, played by Co-Creator/Choreographer Gabe Copeland, appears and seems a perfect fit-- once he puts his tap shoes on. The Manager, played by the other Co-Creator/Choreographer Mindy Copeland, expects to take over as boss as the current boss retires. But her joy is short-lived when a new boss (Jimmy Fisher at the performance I attended) arrives. This new boss bans tap dancing in the office.

13 talented and energetic dancers make the Copeland’s inventive choreography seem effortless. And, while they could easily have been seen as an anonymous chorus, each of them is given solo moments which they make count. They are also all good enough actors to give a hint of individual characters without the benefit of dialog.

There was a glory time for musicals with office settings during the 60’s. The Copelands are aware of that and pay homage with a “Coffee Break” number (additional choreography by Dianne Walker) like in How to Succeed… and a number in an elevator which calls back Sweet Charity. Beyond that, we see a delightful tap in rolling office chairs, a Fred & Ginger salute for “Office Romance,” and a sly tribute to Susan Stroman when the cast raps out a beat on their clipboards and passes file folders. They even manage a cathartic 11 o’clock number with “Office Revolt.”

Catch Office Beat while you can.

***

Steve Fife directs, along with writing both book and lyrics for the world premiere of Charming The Musical, one of two dueling Prince Charming productions at this year’s Fringe Festival.

The remarkably convoluted plot concerns Prince Charming attempting to save his bankrupt kingdom by taking part in a reality show-- a royal take-off on The Bachelor. The catch is that the evil Morgana is the producer for the show, and she has decided to publicly humiliate Charming. To that end, she has gathered all the Fairy Tale princesses he’s dated and ditched over the years: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, etc. Appearances from a family of peasants, Little Red Riding Hood and Hamlet (!!) further complicate the action. To be honest, this much is only clear to me because I re-read the description in the online listing for the show.

Charming is helped little by Sean Schafer Hennessy’s pedestrian score and Fife’s lyrics, which are remarkable only for the number of false rhymes. Fife’s direction of the piece seems focused on getting the cast on and off stage, though many can be seen loitering out-of-character as they await their entrances. The scenes unfold without dynamics or pacing. Certain actors shamelessly chew the non-existent scenery, while others deliver their lines with an astonishing lack of energy. To be honest, some of the cast possess decent voices, but I think it kindest to refrain from mentioning any of them here.