Hot Mess in Manhattan – A Fun Mess Indeed

Eights years after the fantastic series finale and four years after the decent follow-up movie (let’s not make mention of the sequel. Really), and there is something about Sex in the City that won’t leave anyone who spent enough time with Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte. There are many reasons why they really have not left pop culture (and I don’t mean because reruns are aired everyday and four times on Sunday). But for most New Yorkers – especially the under-35 gals and gays – they will admit that those ladies lead lives that are an all too possible foreshadowing of our future selves (except maybe the drinking in the afternoon on a weekday). Even as we look upon the series with nostalgia – a timeless one filled with finding success in wealth, social and personal lives – there is something to be said about the cautionary tales that could be learned, even with the show’s penchant for being a little shallow. Okay, a lot shallow.

I suppose that was the basis for “Hot Mess in Manhattan,” a new developmental musical that opened this past weekend at the American Theatre of Actors. The show is essentially one long cautionary tale following “Mess” – yes, that is her real name – as she tries to adopt Carrie Bradshaw’s style of living {score a man, acquire wealth and power}. Surprise…that is not all as attainable as it is made out to be (of course). Beyond that…well, the show aims for an easy-to-watch, light-fun style and while it may be a mess getting there, they got that aspect down.

It would be too easy to hate on the show because it already seized control of the title I was going to use for my autobiography. However, I can’t hate a show that panders to its theater-going audience, going as far as throwing sidebar jokes at Bernadette Peters (“…And watching Bernadette Peters struggle in whichever revival she was in”), Katherine McPhee in Smash and heck, the show even worked in a non theater-related reference to Breaking Bad. Contrivances and a corny joke or three aside, the book really does know what it is doing. It approaches SATC like everyone who watched the show does – it pays its respects, bows down (in some cases, literally) and then throws in a “said with love” jab at some of the more bullshittier aspects of the show.

In one of the show’s final numbers, a “cards on the table” moment called “Dear Carrie Bradshaw,” Mess sings about what everyone has pondered about SATC since day one. Such as why does Carrie not gain any weight despite the fact she is perpetually eating, her sham of a column that pays for her “how can she afford that” fabulous apartment, etc. It is one of the better moments of the show because it made me aware that THEY were in on the joke…because when they start quoting the show, right down to the season and episode number, Hot Mess… becomes bereft of the high-camp or fun that could have been and comes off too overly serious. How that happened…I have no idea. But that number avoids the distinction of being too freely-adapted or fan fiction-ey, which the book overall varies between the two.

But hey, the show is in its developmental stages and (1) shows a lot of promise and (2) has an audience built right into the show. Above all, the music is astonishingly great, pooling the talents of twelve fantastic composers and/or composing teams. The show’s opener, a number by Ryan Scott Oliver (who is making lives everywhere with the phenomenal 35 MM recording), makes the most of the small-ish stage with spot-on chorography and singing as it goes a darker (literally), more unexpected route as the setting and characters are introduced. Courtesy of Drew Gasparini, there is a song about breaking up with someone via text message…c’mon; that is just awesome.

The diva feels numbers, “Own It” and a personal favorite, “Running,” are pitch-perfect – in fact, they are practically Broadway ship-shape when you consider the cast and the staging. Even the somewhat expendable faire, a song about going to Union Square and another one about working at Starbucks, were fun, even if they were score-padding at its finest. Really, out of all the numbers, only one number I needed to burn out of my head with how awful it was – a jump-the-shark moment level of awful as Mess sponsors an Asian baby (don’t ask), sings to it and it appears in puppet form and sings. When this was happening, I double-checked…no, I was not on crystal meth.

Again, Hot Mess in Manhattan is in its earliest stages and it was memorable overall, especially in the sense that I can recall almost every musical number without hesitation. It also ran at a brisk 75-80 minutes, which is not lost on me because the plot already felt padded out (but not substantially so). There is always a “What could be…?” with shows that are so early on in their production history and the fact that I am curious to see more work and refinement put into it means there was enough there as it stands. I definitely would not mind seeing Mess and co. down the road – it may not be a cult classic in the making or even fill the void of fabulosity that the SATC girls occupy, but it was far more entertaining then it should have been and damn it, that cast recording needs to be in my iTunes library.

Tickets Provided by the Production

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