If you can imagine a musical starring a lonely embalmer, making the dead look better than they did in life who has four brothers acting very much like The Three Stooges plus one and that his best friend Emily, has arrived dead at his family run funeral home and that the Holy Dude Dalai Lama who has grand illusions of creating a brand name (D La) and that a rich Texan wants to buy out his funeral home – and a crazy Russian who also wants a piece of the action and when Edward the lonely embalmer discovers love he also discovers that he can bring the dead back to life – well, you don’t have to – because Mark Noonan & Nick Oddy have already done so with the creation of their new musical – The Happy Embalmer, part of the New York Musical Festival. They are two gifted writers that we should all keep our eyes on.
If you liked The Toxic Avenger you’ll want to see this show. It’s very funny. In a very over the top way. Nothing is sacred here and if you are willing to go along with the absolutely zany plot you’ll have a fine time. A bit of vulgarity and tastelessness is not beyond their talents. The score is very smart and tuneful. Bossa nova beats to power ballads to 50’s rock will keep you bouncing along with the insanity. Director and choreographer Kelly Devine has done a super job in creating some original dances that erupt in spontaneous celebration – dancing in the face of death so to speak.
The Happy Embalmer is one big looney, irreverent cartoon with a heart and soul that beats well within with its message that real beauty in on the inside and when you find love you find the key to happiness. Not an original message. What is original is how Noonan & Oddy go about telling their tale with their delightful score. Austin Switser has created some novel projections that especially add to the hilarity in the second act.
The leader of the pack is Daniel Reichard who mopes about his basement embalming and bemoaning the fact that he’s lonely until he discovers his hidden talent and bursts forth with confidence and warmth. He has an amazing vocal range and is extremely amusing and real. He gives an inspired performance.
Tituss Burgess as the Dalai Lama takes inspiration from Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt. A bit shrill but nonetheless divine. His assistant Tenzing – is a wonderful Cedric Leiba Jr. Megan Sikora as Edward’s lost love Emily is delightful once she is brought back to life. Their duets are right on. They set off sparks together.
The brothers Nando – Noah Aberlin, Tony Daussat, Brian Gallagher and Kevin Michael Murphy do their schtick with abandonment. John Jeffrey Martin is the running joke of the show – Todd. He is a mysterious, extra good looking fellow who is in command and for some odd reason has the eleven o’clock number. As Mr. Nando and the mad Russian Professor Pasternov, Steven Hauck seems to be having the time of his life. The Happy Emblmer is a show about death celebrating life. And I have to totally agree with the philosophy of Noonan & Oddy that without laughter you’re dead.