The title is an obvious reference to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar but Joshua Rosenblum’s lively and clever score also recall’s their hard-edged Evita as well.
Mr. Rosenblum’s dense book is a rudimentary and repetitive serio-comic treatment imparting the minutia of that cause célèbre. In 1972, burglars connected to Republican President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate building complex in Washington, D.C. This resulted into a calamitous scandal and inept cover-up causing a national crisis. Rosenblum’s treatment doesn’t totally succeed at tying together all of its complicated threads.
The cast routinely holds up black and white photos of many of the participants that they appear as. John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, H.R. Bob Haldeman, Charles Colson, John Dean, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, and Martha Mitchell all get shown. Richard Nixon is prominently featured as played by a cast member. There’s a detailed, possibly revenge subplot involving L. Patrick Gray’s selection as the FBI chief following J. Edgar Hoover’s death instead of Felt being chosen.
This production is presented by the York Theatre Company as part of their “NEW2NY” series that showcases new musicals that they have developed. It is being given a concert presentation with the actors who have had only five days of rehearsals having scripts available to them onstage that are rarely used.
Director Annette Jolles staging is basic with some fun choreographic flourishes. There’s no scenery but scenic consultant James Morgan has provided a witty large red semi-circle surrounded by white stars for the stage’s floor. Brian Nason’s lighting design crisply enhances the show. The male cast members wear suits and ties and the lone female wears a colorful dress.
The personable Neal Mayer is a stalwart Mark Felt. The four others in the ensemble play a variety of characters mostly in addition to central ones.
Michael McCoy’s Richard Nixon is a hilarious and recognizable characterization. The electric Vanessa Lemonides is touching as Mrs. Felt. Peter Benson offers a feisty portrait of journalist Bob Woodward.
As “Mr. Everybody Else,” Will Erat is called upon to swiftly create a gallery of personages. Mr. Erat winningly does this with his sharp comedic skills. One of his best bits is a funny sequence as actor Hal Holbrook who played “Deep Throat” in the 1976 film, All The President’s Men, being confronted by the real “Deep Throat.”
Mark Felt (1913-2008) was an FBI agent from 1942 until his retirement as the Bureau’s Deputy Director in 1973. The show explores the paradoxical situations of his life. “Am I traitor or a hero? I guess that’s up to you.”
He was involved in numerous illegal activities such as wiretapping, break-ins and mail interceptions of counter culture groups including The Weather Underground. Felt was later convicted on charges related to these actions but was eventually pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. At the same time, he was leaking classified information related to Watergate to Washington Post reporters Woodward and Carl Bernstein. In 2005, he finally announced that he was “Deep Throat.”
Though somewhat unfocused and rambling at 85 minutes, this incarnation of Mark Felt, Superstar is a very good try at musicalizing such offbeat and complex subject matter. It does demonstrate its future potential as either a fast paced minimalist presentation or as an inventively staged full-fledged production.
Mark Felt, Superstar (through January 15, 2017)
The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-935-5820 or visit http://www.yorktheatre.org
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission