The musical revue Don’t Call Us altered the lyrics of well-known show tunes to tell a story about trying to break into show business: "Audition" was sung to the tune of "Maria" from West Side Story, "Hello, Young Lovers" became "Hello, Upstager," wannabe gypsies spread the word about a "Hairspray Cast Call" a la the telephoning teens of Bye Bye Birdie, and so on.
Oddly, no one was credited for either the new lyrics or the show’s concept, or as director. If several people shared these duties, as the omissions suggest, that might explain the show’s fragmentary nature. They still, however, didn’t seem to have enough ideas or humor to sustain entire songs, since many of the revised songs lasted only one verse.
One parody that did get a full-length airing — a roll call of annoying theatergoers (the yakker, the snacker, etc.) sung to "Tradition" — was a highlight of the show. So were the ensemble renditions, with original lyrics, of "Magic to Do" and "Putting It Together." The most clever invention — although its potential was not fully realized — was "Karp’s Song," in which the maligned teacher of A Chorus Line’s "Nothing" tells his side of the story.
All this suggests that maybe there was a better "plot" for this show than the one chosen, which focused on three Broadway hopefuls who are hopelessly outdated archetypes. Is anyone who comes to New York these days as naive as apple-cheeked Marisa Moss’s character? Upon arrival, she proclaims that the city looks just like it did in Fame! If that’s her benchmark, why does she nearly fall into the clutches of a predatory "agent" as Irene Cara sadly did in the movie? (Besides, New York does not look like it did in 1980.) Another aspirant (Colin Pritchard) tiresomely chronicles his career in phone calls to his mother — who, as cliches would have it, decries life upon the wicked stage but seems to know little about it. Then there’s the has-been (Jody Eisenstein) whose comeback vehicle is an understudying gig: She displays the most diva-like behavior for a nobody yet derides the star as a diva, and her reminiscences of her heyday would put her around 100 years old (wasn’t "the straw hat circuit" contemporaneous with vaudeville?).
Choreography was unsophisticated — parading in a circle, e.g. — and the wide variety of costumes (a skimpy miniskirt and tank top sharing the stage with an ankle-length skirt and sweater) drew attention away from the performers and toward their diverse body types.
It was clear from their solos that Heather Thompson and Natalie Jones had powerful voices. There was more talent, and no doubt enthusiasm, in the cast of Don’t Call Us as well, but the haphazard, banal concept did not provide a good showcase for it.
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Copyright 2003 Adrienne Onofri