Bernadette and the Butcher Of Broadway

By David Bell
Directed by Christopher Borg
The Duplex
61 Christopher Street (212/255-5438)
Equity showcase (Wednesdays only; closes Nov. 26)
Review by Charles Battersby

As one might presume, the titular Bernadette is, in fact, Mama Rose herself, Ms Peters. Bernadette and the Butcher of Broadway is set in the near future just as Peters is closing her run in Gypsy. A benevolent theatre critic, Brian Bradley (Desmond Dutcher), loves her, but an evil theatre gossip columnist Morgan Rydell (Brett Douglas) can't say a single nice thing about her. The two make a gentleman's wager that Bradley can bring about a revival of Mame starring Bernadette, and that all of Rydell's catty criticizing can't stop the show from becoming a hit. If ... Butcher... sounds like a show written just for theatre geeks - it is. Audience members unfamiliar with the theatre scene will be baffled by the constant stream of insider jokes (and pot shots at the Winter Garden). But what are ya doing at the Duplex on Christopher Street if yer not already into musical theatre? As the Paperboy (Michael Silva) points out in one scene, "The only people in here are actors and fags."

Although Bernadette Peters wasn't actually in the show, the cast was still great. Desmond Dutcher made an affable protagonist, and Brett Douglas was the perfect bitchy foil for him. Ellen Reilly turned up as an overbearing shrew of a producer, with Dayna Steinfeld and Mark Ruggiero as the story's clueless young lovers. Ron Bopst rounded out the cast as an unscrupulous newspaper editor who's more concerned with getting pictures of "Paris Hilton's tits" than reporting actual news (but who doesn't like topless photos of the Hilton sisters?)

Since it was performed in a cabaret instead of a black-box theatre, the show had to run in the 55 minutes allotted by the venue. Director Christopher Borg kept the play running at lightning speed, though it never came across as rushed, but rather crisp and sharp. Borg also had to make the most of the tiny, piano-filled cabaret stage. As such the set was nonexistent. The (unplayed) piano dominated the stage, and placards mounted on top of it told the audience where each scene was supposed to occur. At times the piano served as a desk or table, but mostly just got in the way of the show, forcing Mr. Borg to cluster his cast in front of it for much of the show. The show didn't suffer for lack of space or furniture, but would certainly have benefited from a proper playing area.

To compensate for the set, the show had brilliantly designed props. George Babiak constructed every single prop for the show out of poster board to create cartoony two-dimensional objects. Everything from cigarettes, to cell phones, to the fire coming out of a cigarette lighter were made with this stylishly amusing design concept.

While it's not a show Grandma will like, Bernadette... is a fun-filled hour for anyone who's ever been caught up in the Peters vs. Merman debate. It also provides plenty of catty catharsis for anyone waiting for Mama Mia to close.

 Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 0/Props: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby