A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet is the first new Off Broadway musical since the Pandemic shut down. It turns out to be an innocuous but entertaining little one set show. It is co-written by Ben Fankhauser and Alex Wyse (music, book and lyrics) who also appear in the show as unproduced songwriters. Ironically, they have written their best material for Bryonha Marie Parham who appears with them as title character Regina Comet, a pop star whose career appears to have tanked. They have not only given her a star turn as a fading recording icon intent on reinventing herself for a new generation, but clever and witty songs which she delivers with pizzazz and brio.
To promote her new fragrance Relevance in order to connect with the younger generation, Regina Comet’s director suggests a jingle. Although Regina wants the greatest songwriters in the world, finances require they go with the cheapest. Fankhauser and Wyse play the unnamed composer and lyricist team, respectively. Suffering from writers block, they decide to FaceTime with Regina, then meet in person, and finally each joins her for dinner at her favorite Meatpacking District restaurant, The Flourishing Pig. Things don’t work out as planned and the ending has a few twists and turns as Regina changes her mind more than once. The finale is a big production number meant for her comeback concert.
While Marshall Pailet’s direction is breezy and fastpaced, the dialogue has too many Borscht belt jokes (“Take my Grandma, for instance. No really take her-,” Camp Rosenblatt, “As my Grandma used to say,” etc.”) and lyrics with too many quotes from much better song writers such as Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and Bock and Harnick. References to Barry Manilow and Hanson don’t really land and the show counts on a great many traditional memes like making Wyse’s neurotic lyricist gay and Fankhauser’s self-effacing composer straight. Unfortunately, they are rather bland when they should be bigger than life in this three-character musical. The fact that they have no names and are referred to in the program as “Man 2” (there is no “Man 1”) and “Other Man” is pretentious rather than endearing.
On the other hand, Parham has a big personality and is always the center of attention when she is on stage. As the former pop recording star, she gives a big performance and belts out her songs with a powerful voice. Her delivery is smooth and silken both singing and trading quips. She is not only memorable but seeing her in this show, one can’t wait to see her in her next outing. Having appeared in five Broadway musicals and countless concert stagings, she has the talent and technique to take command of the stage and create a memorable character out of very little. She alone is worth the price of a ticket.
Wilson Chin’s set is a little bit busy covered entirely in white and yellow sheet music and handwritten lyrics, as well as various colored Post-it notes which are never referred to in the show. The costumes by Sarita Fellows are rather strange: Wyse as Other Man always wears shorts, while Fankauser always long pants – unless this is to help differentiate them. Parham as Regina Comet is seen mostly in a colorful track suit. Although she looks great in it, but makes one wonder if pop stars don’t usually dress up for their fans. The three person band made up of Alex Goldie Golden (music director/keyboard), Sherisse Rogers (bass) and Rosa Avila (drums) has uncredited orchestrations with a too insistent rhythm section which drowns out the men unless this is the fault of Twi McCallum’s sound design. Aja M. Jackson’s lighting design is suitable but unmemorable.
A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet, the first Off Broadway musical since March 2020, is a clever premise which doesn’t go far enough in developing its ideas and resembles such earlier shows as [title of show] and The Other Josh Cohen. However, like a great many light entertainments, it is diverting and pleasant enough without leaving its audience with much to take home. However, its star turn by Bryonha Marie Parham in the title role is top-drawer.
A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet (extended through November 21, 2021)
DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: one hour and 25 minutes without an intermission