REVIEW: The Memory Show (Original Off-Broadway Cast)
A two-person musical about dementia? It might be a strange choice of material, but such is the content of The Memory Show which played off-Broadway in 2013 in a production by the Transport Group. Written by up-and-coming writers (Zach Redler-Music; Sara Cooper-Book and Lyrics), The Memory Show focuses on a Jewish Mother and Daughter (they aren’t given names) as the former (Catherine Cox) begins to enter a downward spiral of dementia while her estranged daughter (Leslie Kritzer) moves in to take care of her. Flashing between past and present and drawing on the painful episodes, especially those involving husband/father Ira, that informed their family life together, this show and score are anything but happy.
Redler and Cooper have written a challenging if not always accessible score. The show opens with “Who’s the President of the United States?” a song that points to Mother’s quickly unraveling mind, but a tune that I doubt will be entering anyone's cabaret repertoire anytime soon. Much of the music (orchestrated simply for piano, reeds, violin, and cello) is consistent with its unsettling content, making for a score that is both complex and dissonant. (Redler’s music most evokes the musical theater vocabulary of Polly Pen’s Bed and Sofa, another discordant chamber piece). As Mother’s condition deteriorates, the tone between the two women turns angry and confrontational; this is not music to fall asleep to. What the songs tend to lack in melody, they make up for in character development. Daughter’s humorous opening song “Single Jewish Female Seeks Man” is in a more traditional musical theater vein and most of her songs feel like complete numbers whereas Mother’s songs tend to ramble, a reflection of her broken mind. I’ll leave it to others to decide if they want to listen to the strange “You and Me Toilet” in which Daughter sings about having to “clean up” after her mother. Stunning, though, is the show’s final song, the Jewish-inflected “Lullaby” with Daughter comforting Mother with the words “Sha, sha, sha.” The main challenge with the score is that because things, plot-wise, simply become worse and worse, much of the score sounds frustratingly alike: depressing, angry, sad, and uncomfortable.
What is perhaps most compelling about the recording are its two stars, vet Catherine Cox and Broadway belter Leslie Kritzer. Both offer solid, moving, and touching performances and Kritzer gets the chance to show off her delightfully rangy voice on several numbers.
The Memory Show isn’t for everyone and some listeners will surely find its content and/or its music hard going. But for those folks who want to hear a new direction in musical theater, this cast album does a nice job of capturing a challenging show on disc.
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Bed & Sofa Catherine Cox Polly Pen Leslie Kritzer Sara Cooper Zach Redler Toggle Additional (3)