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Tupperware: An American Musical Fable isn’t so much about those plastic canisters that burp when you close them as it is about picking up the pieces after a drastic life change, looking in the mirror, and discovering who you really are.
The fabulous Mary Hollis Inboden, with a sunny face that could light up Chicago, plays Delores Bird Clark – a recently widowed 1950s Floridian housewife who soon learns that her husband’s army pension has fallen through and she’s at a loss of what to do. Enter Brownie Wise, played by the smooth Meg Johns, who sweeps in to show her the empowered life one could lead selling Tupperware, turning Delores’ life – and her tight-knit neighborhood – upside down.
Not only has New Colony delivered a refreshing new musical comedy, it’s an interesting history lesson in the creation of Tupperware as a household brand, thanks in large part to Ms. Wise who established the “party plan” system of Tupperware sales. You know: Tupperware parties.
However, not all goes to plan. The chatty neighbor ladies are suspicious of Delores and Brownie meeting secretly together. (Two single woman hanging out! Imagine!) Particularly leery is Lilah Johnsonton, the neighborhood ueber-maven, whose key interest is upholding the morals and traditional American values in her cul-de-sac – even if it means a bit of sabotage. In a bitter stroke of irony, Lilah is a drag role, played cuttingly by Danny Taylor.
You almost wish a mini-musical was written for the three women ensemble cast, comprising Nikki Klix, Tara Sissom and Thea Lux. Each actress is a skilled comedienne, interjecting moments of sheer hilarity with just a quick quip or glance. However, a few extra rehearsals might tighten up the complex harmonies required of them to sing.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a new musical comedy that hits all the right notes. The score by Julie B. Nichols is wonderfully tuneful, and a book by James Asmus, Will Cavedo, and Andrew Hobgood is clever, touching and laugh-out-loud funny. Yes, it’s campy by design, but it also has real moments of heart – mostly delivered by the emotionally raw Inboden. A duet between Inboden and her late husband (the clear-voiced Kevin Stangler) makes a strong impression.
Director Andy Hobgood keeps a fluid pace, letting the poignant moments play out as needed. I do wish he didn’t block so many scenes behind the audience, requiring us to uncomfortably twist in our chairs for several minutes at a time. The skilled band of four, under Jared Saunders’ music direction, represents the score extremely well.
A few quibbles: A repetitious act one needs trimming, the set is functional but very ugly (great costumes, though – particularly Delores’ voluminous act two dress!) and the cement cave of a venue does a disservice to the show. But, whatever. The New Colony has delivered a winning new musical that I hope has a life beyond this production.
Tupperware runs Thursdays through Sundays through August 9 at 7:30 pm at La Costa Theater, 3931 N. Elston St. (Elston and Central Park). For tickets, visit the New Colony website at http://www.thenewcolony.org/tupperware.