Clever musical revue satirizes office life

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Nov. 13, 2002 at 12:49 PM
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NEW YORK, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Corporate office life is scrutinized satirically in a new Off Broadway musical revue with a cast of five, provocatively titled "The Water Coolers."

Anyone who has experienced the nerve-wracking approach of a deadline for an important presentation for approval by a company's board of directors will especially enjoy this clever little show at Dillons, the theater district cabaret space where it is premiering prior to a national tour.

Film and television often have focused on the water cooler as a meeting place for office staffers but it rarely, if ever, has been used as a stage device.

In Act 1 of "The Water Coolers" there is a cooler stage center around which action following a lightly sketched plot line involving preparation of a presentation takes place. In a shorter Act 2 the cooler is shoved to the rear of the stage as the cast addresses more general topics that contribute to office paranoia.

The show is the idea of Thomas Michael Allen, a co-creator of "Tony n' Tina's Wedding," now in its 15th year Off Broadway. Allen's collaborators in writing the show are Marya Grandy, who is also a member of the cast, Joe Allen, David Nehls, and E. Andrew Sensenig.

Grandy takes the role of Judy, a dedicated working mother who heads the office team working on the presentation. Elena Shadow plays Brooke, a single high-I.Q. looker who has the attention of all the men on the staff. Adam Mastrelli is Steve, a bachelor who considers himself God's gift to women, Kurt Robbins is Glen, a family man who is the office's computer expert, and Peter Brown is Frank, the boss's son.

All are polished comedians who have their audiences in stitches over the mad, mad rush to complete a presentation whose chances of acceptance seem dubious. Only Judy, who keeps telling her team how wonderful they are, seems to have faith in obtaining board approval of their proposal.

The first act provides an introduction to characters more fully fleshed out in the second act when they one by one confide in the audience. Their collective complaints include the difficulties in observing political correctness between the sexes, overwork, cramped working space, stymied social lives, fund-raising sales of cookies and candies by other members of the staff, problems with personal digital assistants, and stupid bosses.

It's distressing and funny at the same time and all too often hits close to home and the American way of life. With each revelation of their vulnerabilities, the members of the cast become more human than characters generally encountered in sitcom situations and more like friends we have known -- or even ourselves.

"The Watercoolers" makes a wonderful evening in the theater with a cast of great charm and vocal talent. Some of the musical score is music is original and some of it consists of old tunes with new lyrics such as "Downtown," "Who Will Buy?," and the "Hallelujah Chorus." The best of the new songs are "Chat Room," "Just Another Friday," and "Many Paths," the closing anthem.

David Nehls and Fiona Santos are in charge of musical direction and arrangements. Michael Schweikardt has created a simple but effective office set and Jeff Doherty has contributed costumes appropriate for a firm with a coat-and-tie dress code. Timothy Albrecht's choreography is witty but unassuming, and William Wesbrook's overall direction is remarkably graceful considering the smallness of the stage.

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