What can one say about a musical written by Prisoner #11R0731? A Turtle on a Fence Post is that musical now filling every nook and cranny of the stage of Theater 555 with its tale of political and criminal intrigue.
A large cast of characters supports this true-life—though fictionalized for the stage—character, singing about the trials and tribulations each experiences. The multi-styled music is by Austin Nuckols and the telling lyrics by Lily Dwoskin who are in total synchronicity with #11R0731’s plight.
The central character of A Turtle on a Fence Post is Hank, a stand-in for Hank Morris aka Prisoner #11R0731, a real-life victim of then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s egotistical acts of political vindictiveness (or so he claims, but let’s go with his point of view).
When Hank (Garth Kravits, making the most of his star turn with his strong voice and sweet presence), a Democratic Party election strategist and consultant, helps elect Charles Schumer as a Senator from New York State Cuomo wants in, too. Hank refuses and suffers the consequences, a trumped up charge on perfectly legal—but questionable—financial transactions that involved calling in favors from then New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi to direct pension investments toward certain investment funds.
This forced Morris into a political Catch-22, pleading guilty to just a single one of the over one hundred charges against him, leading to a four-year prison sentence with parole promised within just a few months. Somehow parole eludes him.
Unfolding from a stand-up comedy routine—“A prisoner walks into a bar…!”—and set in a comedy venue designed with ingenuity and style by Walt Spangler, Turtle veers from hokey to horrible helped by the spiffy routines staged by choreographer Kenny Ingram in over-the-top, sometimes kitschy, routines. Where else can you see dancing prison guards waving their batons as they tap dance in a circle or the flexible actor Josh Marin portraying an ATM and a basketball hoop?
An old drunken broad kibitzes from the sidelines. She is played by the marvelous Joanna Glushak who morphs into Hank’s worried mother Rita. This character she acts with skill, treading a fine line between comedy and heartbreak. Similarly terrific is the lovely-voiced Kate Loprest as Leslie, Hank’s beleaguered wife. Both sing, act and move beautifully.
David Aron Damane plays Z who has a powerful gospel-tinged number, “There’s a Light,” that is a musical highpoint of Turtle revealing a Black man’s view of Hank’s plight.
The entire cast is fine, slipping from character to character with charming ease and singing the 21 songs with fine voices. Richard E. Waits and Erik Gratton complete the cast list.
Yael Lubetzky’s lighting design, enhanced by Stefania Bulbarella’s funny and informative projections, clearly define the fantasy from the reality and the comedy from the drama. Vanessa Leuck’s imaginative costumes permit the cast members to play multiple rolls with ease.
Director Gabriel Barre keeps the show rolling along. Even when it bogs down in tangled legalize, details of Hank’s domestic life, and one too many musical numbers, it rolls along.
Yes, A Turtle on a Fence Post is overlong and would benefit from judicious pruning and redistribution of the often clever numbers, but there is in this energetic jumble a show about a unique subject. The three creators managed to humanize and dramatize the story enough to keep interest focused.
A Turtle on a Fence Post (through November 21, 2021)
Max Brod Productions
Theater 555, 555 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets visit http://www.TurtleMusical.com
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission