Peter Mills's Taxi Cabaret wasn't really cabaret, and taxis were involved only peripherally. It was a revue, with a familiar theme yet (recent college grads trying to make it big in the big city). But Mills's songs were so good, no, make that superlative, that the theme shone like new, and the silly title couldn't hide the freshest, most tuneful, heartfelt, and well-sung musical in ages. With luck, it will be remembered as an early talent explosion that led up to what will be, if there's any justice, a superlative career. To paraphrase a line from Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, you should be kicking yourself that you weren't there.
The conception owes a large debt to such song-cycle revues as Marry Me a Little and Closer Than Ever, and looks over its shoulder at TV's Friends. It starts off a little preciously with Scott (Stephen Karam), a wannabe author seeing his life as the subject of his book, but the whole cast was so vibrant and alive that it was impossible not to be taken with Karen (Alison Cimmet), a first-grade teacher who is thrilled with all aspects of New York, particularly the subway. Or when Mark (Christopher Graves) and Sara (Rebecca Soler) sing their disparate feelings about the very, very small apartment they are about to take ("Starting Small"). And a good number about C.C., an actress dealing with her life as a temp, becomes a showstopper in the hands (and feet) of Liz Power. Not opera, not art tunes, these are musical-theatre songs, and if the spirits of Rogers and Hammerstein, Comden and Green, Maltby and Shire, and Stephen Sondheim were looking in, they were surely smiling.
Scott's vision of the bright future for himself and the underemployed around him was a triumphant combination of unfettered enthusiasm and self-delusion; Zach (Jason Mills)'s paean to the EZ Pass as an access card to (and through) life was a riot, even with the dark underside of his passing as straight. The ups and downs of relationships were beautifully charted with Karen's being "Cautiously Optimistic" when her apparent Prince Charming holds the subway door, and when Mark sings the beginning of a terrific ballad about Sara (a little development needed there); life in the city is evoked in terrific show-business terms when Zach rants about traffic, bumper stickers, and how people insist on sharing their feelings, and when Scott, now fired, discovers the Village. Loneliness and missed connections under the guise of a geography lesson ("Continental Drift") is what the first-act finale leaves the audience singing at intermission, along with the memory of some very clever costumes.
The second act was just as compelling and enjoyable -- "The Game of Life," a take-off on the board game; three couples singing three ballads; C.C.'s dream involving "The Purchase of Manhattan" and how she must take charge of her life; the number where everyone bitches and moans at "The Corner Café" (not Starbucks, but not Central Perk either); and Mark at a life-changing crossroad, specifically at "72nd and 3rd."
Okay, it wasn't all perfect. Some scenes ran on too long or ended softly, some songs were stronger than others, and some staging pushed a little too hard. Zach's coming out, "Way Ahead of My Time," had him as a caveman, a not entirely successful gimmick. But the finale, "The City is New," with Scott and company appreciating their life in New York, was goosebump-inducing theatre. It's all set in musical-comedy-land, of course, but it works.
The young, fresh cast of Taxi Cabaret had better appreciate the quality of the material they were performing so enthusiastically, because it will be a long time before they again have material this good. Over-the-top praise? You just wait.
Return to Volume Nine, Number nineteen Index
Return to Volume Nine Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 2002 David Mackler