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The Elephant Man – the Musical The Baldacchino at Fort Fringe

Remaining performances: Saturday, July 18 at 4:00p.m. Sunday, July 19 at 8:30p.m.

They say: “The Elephant Man sings and dances his way to Broadway in this hysterical parody of, and love song to, the American Musical. And why not? After all, everybody wants their life to be a musical!”

Brett’s take: Oddly enough, in this day and post-Urinetown age, the parody-musical musical has become a cliché in itself. Take a small cast playing broad archetypes (sleazy carnival owner! self-absorbed doctor! fabulously gay Broadway producer!); add a tight band; tack on an ultra-familiar plot structure (the “I Want” song! the friends split apart, their dreams dashed! the friends reunited, their dreams achieved!); and finally the key element, broad humor mostly derived from the contrast between the shopworn plot and the ridiculousness of the specifics. It’s like a mad lib — [identity of hero] yearns for [dream] but [obstacle]. Insert serious words, and you get a serious musical; insert silly ones – in this case, [the Elephant Man] yearns for [Broadway stardom] but [he’s the friggin’ Elephant Man] – and you get a parody-musical.

If you understand what I mean and are familiar with the form, you already know what this show is going to be like. It’s a competent example; no Urinetown, to be sure, nor even a Xanadu or a Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, but the performers are skilled, with particular kudos to Roger Mulligan (as John Merrick) for managing punchlines while burdened with a giant packing-tape-and-plastic-cup head. The jazzy trio plays catchy tunes in familiar styles (“He’s the Elephant… MAN! The Elephant… MAN!”). The humor is irreverent, and while funny, it is nevertheless often predictable: the plucky heroine tells the loveless Elephant Man that she likes him because he treats her like a human being, while all those other guys just ogle her breasts (she demonstrates her bosom), ass (she demonstrates) and legs (she demonstrates), and oh, “did [she] mention her full and buoyant breasts?” “They are rather buoyant,” he replies.

In a Fringe festival, a show that rests upon playing loose and vulgar with musical clichés might, oddly enough, be too conservative in its own way to really fit. (Or maybe it’s just at the Capital Fringe, because this show was well-received in New York.) At this Fringe, there are musicals weirder than this being played without the audience-winking that emerge all the funnier for it. Up against bloody punk rock Shakespeare, a robots-vs-farmers melodic musical and… well, Dizzy Miss Lizzie, something like this just seems… plain.

See it if: Hearing the original Elephant Man quote “I sometimes wonder if my head is so big because it is so full of dreams” twisted into “I sometimes wonder if my head is so big because it is so full of Jim Beam” makes you chortle.

Skip it if: A Fringe show picking on Broadway seems to you like it’s missing the point.