Reviewed by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

As it turns out, Open Fist’s production of Neil Simon’s Musical Fools playing at the Atwater Village Theater is not only a winner under the direction of Ron West, it’s pretty damned gut-busting funny from curtain up to curtain down. The music is awesome too!

Yeah, ok…it’s Neil Simon…my first thought (probably everyone’s first thought in 2019) going into a funnybone by this revered writer. Sure, it’s usually, um, fun. But, mmmm, it’s Neil Simon. And the word “dated” potentially comes to mind. However, hell no. Not this production. No way!

There’s also, as I discovered, a slightly twisted mythology about this play. When cheeky ole’ Neil was mounting his comic fable Fools as it was then called in 1981, on Broadway, he was going through a divorce. It wasn’t a musical then, and not the success it is here today. In fact, it was a more-or-less flop. And perhaps intentionally so, as the proceeds, in a legal agreement, were supposed to go to his former wife. Yikes. Fools got no game back then and closed after 40 performances with a dreary review by New York Times writer Frank Rich to boot.

Open Fist, however, has turned this tragedy into an utter triumph in every way and in no small part by leading on opening night with alternate Demetris Hartman as Dr. Zubritsky, who isn’t merely perfectly cast for the part.

The entire ensemble delivers every gag, line, choreographic number (choreography by Louisa Kendrick Burton), and minor puppetry additions to a witty score (music and lyrics by Phil Swan and Ron West), played by a live, rambunctious, onstage, mini-orchestra (music direction by Jan Roper, arrangements by Luke Harrington).

Apart from a momentary flutter in the second act, nothing is out of place in this production enhanced by the always-high-marks on Matt Richter’s lighting designs and with Mary Keegan, imaginatively created costume design by Mylette Nora, and sound design by Tim Labor.

Open Fist’s Neil Simon’s Musical Fools is seriously in the well-achieve above the hype category that anyone should expect from this theater company’s long list of consummate productions.

And, as luck would have it it’s getting an extension. Do not miss.

Very Highly Recommended

Set in the small village of Kulyenchikov, Ukraine, during the late 19th century, the story follows Leon Steponovich Tolchinsky, a schoolteacher who takes a new job educating Sophia, the daughter of Dr. Zubritsky and his wife, Lenya. Leon soon learns that there is a curse on the village that makes everyone stupid, but complications ensue when Leon falls in love with his pupil.

Photo (above) by Darrett Sanders: Musical Fools Ensemble

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