EastOfIndy review of Dearest, the Mommie Musical
John Belden's Review of TOTS original work by Ron Spencer:
In watching "Dearest: The Mommie Musical," now playing at Indy's Theatre on the Square, I approach the story from a different perspective than the older film fan who remembers Joan Crawford as one of the greatest actresses of the silver screen. My first thought of her is as the "NO WIRE HANGERS, EVER!" maniac of the 1981 film "Mommie Dearest," based on the tell-all book by Crawford's adopted daughter Christina. When I see black-and-white photos of her in her prime, I don't see the luminous beauty she was reputed to be, but something akin to Bride of Frankenstein.
Considering this play, by TOTS founder and executive artistic director Ron Spencer, is based on the book and film, I'd expect that view to be reinforced. But Spencer wisely goes deeper than that, presenting a sort of Hollywood Jeckyl-and-Hyde duality to the character of Crawford (played excellently by Holly Hathaway).
Of course, Christina, played as a child by Morgan Patrick-Roof and as teen/adult by Emily Bohannon, is put in a positive light as the victim who settles into as much of a go-along/get-along routine as she can manage. Ashley Chase is also great as Carol Ann, Crawford's personal assistant and faithful witness to the best and worst of the actress's moods. Michael Ferruzza is also notable playing two men with a big influence on Crawford's life, studio mogul Louis B. Mayer and Alfred Steele, president of Pepsi-Cola and Crawford's last husband.
The original songs, all by Spencer, do a great job of bringing the story along. For Joan, they reflect not only her dark side -- "I'm Mad at the Dirt" and "Box Office Poison (Bring Me the Axe)" -- but also her beatific public persona -- "I Would Rather be Here with You" and "Christmas in Your Heart" -- and, in her best song, "Don't F*** With Me, Fellas," as an empowered woman in a man's world. Patrick-Roof is charming singing the eerie "She Can Make You Disappear" and the sly "That's What They All Say," and Bohannon gets to extend one of the film's iconic lines into a dance routine with "I am Not One of Your Fans." One of the best songs, soaked with both hope and foreboding, is "Wait and See," sung by Hathaway, Morgan and brother Wyatt Roof (as Christina's adopted bother Christopher), and Chase.
This musical seeks to reconcile the mentally-damaged Crawford of her daughter's book with the public still-beloved persona who won an Oscar and went on to fight for her place on Pepsi's board of directors. The result is a fascinating drama of a complex and deeply-flawed woman and the people who struggle to love her or at least survive being churned in her wake. -- And the "wire hangers" scene? Practically a throw-away bit in the first act; the hair-chopping scene was more disturbing. -- For what could be regarded as yet another attack on Crawford's legacy, it actually left me seeing her in a better light, more human than the monster caricature my generation grew up with. For that alone, "Dearest, the Mommie Musical" is a success.
The musical runs through July 14 at TOTS, 627 Massachusetts Ave. Call (317) 685-8687.