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Paulanne Simmons

"The People vs. Mona" – A Drop Dead Funny & Enjoyable Musical

"The People vs. Mona"
Directed by Kate Middleton
Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
312 West 36th St. between 8th and 9th avenues
Opened July 12, 2007
Tues thru Sat. 8:30 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m.
$20 (212) 868-4444
Closes Aug. 4, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 28, 2007.

Cast of "The People vs. Mona." Photo by Randy Morrison.

Every once in a while a musical comes along that has everything – a score that mines all the most successful musical genres, lyrics that are funny and appropriate, quick and clever dialogue, and a director and cast that know how to make the most of the marvelous material with which they have been entrusted.

Jim Wann and Patricia Miller's "The People vs. Mona" is exactly that kind of musical.

From the moment the audience sees Travis McHale's set – a Tippo, Georgia juke joint called the Frog Pad, with its walls covered with LPs, pictures of 60s celebrities and electric guitars, and its small but swinging band – it's clear everyone's in for a rollicking good time.

"The People vs. Mona" is ostensibly a murder mystery, but it's really a parody of the Perry Mason-type whodunit made famous by the TV series. There's a good-looking defendant, Mona Mae Katt (Mariand Torres); a victim who is never seen dead or alive, her husband, C.C. Katt, the no-good, two-timing owner of a recording studio; a bumbling, drawling defense attorney, Jim Summerford (the thoroughly likable Richard Binder); an ambitious and attractive prosecutor (who happens to be defense attorney's girlfriend), Mavis Frye (Karen Culp); and a cynical, no-nonsense judge, Ella Jordan (Natalie Douglas).

There is also an array of eccentric witnesses (many played by the versatile Omri Schein and the full-throated Marcie Henderson) that includes the founder of Summerford's alma mater, Eupie R. Pugh University ("It was the only one I could get into"), a blind beggar, the Pakistani owner of a no-tell motel and a revivalist minister.

Musical highlights are David Jon Wilson as Officer Bell holding a note so long in "Officer Bell's Turn" Momma Rose might blush; Henderson as Blind Willy belting out "They call me Blind Willy cause I can't see… but I got 20/200 scent;" and Douglas citing chapter and verse in the gospel number "You Done Forgot Your Bible." But there's much more.

Wann and Miller have thrown a wide musical net encompassing jazz, blues, gospel, rock & roll, country and Tin Pan Alley. One great song and dance number (Jill Gorrie is the choreographer) comes exuberantly after another. And director Kate Middleton exhibits the perfect control of a juggler with five clubs in the air.

There are lots of winks to the audience in. Audience interaction is a must as Middleton turns the Frog Pad into a courtroom and the audience into spectators. Through it all, "The People vs. Mona" never loses its sense of fun.

From its ridiculous beginning to its absurd ending, the show never descends into the mundane world of reality. The characters are all unabashedly over the top. The plot is held together with the help of the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief – a small price to pay for an evening of such superb entertainment.


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