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Which Way to the Stage

Theatre Review by David Hurst - May 11, 2022

Max Jenkins, Evan Todd, and Sas Goldberg
Photo by Daniel J Vasquez
If you're a musical-theatre-obsessed gay man or one of the many straight women who love them, boy, does MCC have a delightful, new dramedy for you! If you can see past its terrible title (and please try), Which Way to the Stage, written with penetrating insight by Ana Nogueira, blessed with a superb cast, and swiftly directed by Mike Donahue, is a treat that has a lot to say about frustration, friendship, and fan-worship. But be warned, the quips fly by at a furious pace, and the dialogue practically requires a doctorate in musical theatre trivia to catch all the references.

Set in March 2015, in the final weeks of the Idina Menzel vehicle If/Then, Which Way to the Stage opens at the stage door of the Richard Rodgers Theatre where Jeff (Max Jenkins, excellent), a musical-theatre-obsessed gay performer, and his best friend Judy (Sass Goldberg, wonderful), a straight woman who's also a struggling performer, are waiting in the cold for Menzel to appear and, hopefully, sign their programs. They speak in a hilarious musical-theatre shorthand which only a symbiotic relationship of arguing whether Bernadette Peters or Patti LuPone is the definite Rose in Gypsy could support. It's clear they're BFFs who argue constantly and agree on very little, and Nogueira's gift as a playwright is how deftly and accurately she conveys their relationship through Sass and Jeff's rapid-fire banter. It's also clear Sass and Jeff are serious fans and not (gasp) tourists.

Fortunately, that gift for believable dialogue continues throughout the play. Sass and Jeff don't just wait in vain for Menzel to magically appear, they also go to casting call auditions in a fluorescent light filled hallway where Judy meets Mark (Evan Todd, pitch-perfect). Mark, an apparent straight man who's auditioning for the same regional production of Avenue Q that Sass is, flirts with her and slips her his phone number. They begin dating casually but Jeff is drawn to Mark as well and wonders aloud if Mark might be gay. Jeff, who works as a drag performer, decides to do a new show based on Idina Menzel, and Judy and Mark attend the opening to support him. It's at this point that Nogueira's play starts to wobble a bit as Jeff's act (as Menzel) goes on way too long. Of course, it doesn't help that Jenkins doesn't look or sound anything like Menzel. Judy leaves in a huff, which is followed by a long scene between Jeff and Mark that ultimately leads to a falling out between our BFFs.

That falling out tackles a multitude of issues in a provocative confrontation in which secrets are revealed, truths are told, and the entire foundation of their gay-straight alliance is called into question. Nogueira unpacks an assortment of anger and regrets in their confrontation, but despite some contrivances and a self-indulgent ending, she chalks up more hits than misses. Rounding out the four-hander is lovely Michelle Veintimilla who portrays an auditioning actress, a drunken bridezilla, and an audition monitor, all with expert style and timing.

Which Way to the Stage
Through May 22, 2022
Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space, 511 West 52nd Street and 10th Avenue
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