The actor Matthew McConaughey sells his soul to the devil, and then tries to get it back, in this musical that opened the 2017 New York Musical Festival, which describes the show in its program as “a Faustian comedy that dares to ask the question: How did Matthew McConaughey win an Academy Award?”
I dare to ask a more sensible question: How did so many talented people produce a show so pointless, derivative and mean? Its worst sin may be that it is rarely funny.
The very premise of this supposed satire collapses on the slightest inspection – that McConaughey was nothing more than a pretty boy Rom-Com star before he gave his Oscar-winning performance in “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2013.
“They respected my abs,” McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) says in the musical, about his performance in the 2012 stripper movie Magic Mike. “But did they really respect me?”
So, to get that respect, McConaughey needs an Oscar, and to get that Oscar, he signs a contract with Mephistopoheles (Lesli Margherita.)
Compare this show with the 2002 New York Fringe Festival play “Matt and Ben” (written and performed by a pre-celebrity Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers), which posed a similar question – how did Matt Damon and Ben Affleck write the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” – and provided a similar silly answer — that it must have been aliens from Outer Space that provided the script. But Damon and Affleck were both little-known actors at the time, aged 27 and 25 respectively, with no previous screenwriting credits. Matthew McConaughey is 47, with a long and respectable acting career. Long before his Oscar-winning performance, he played serious roles in serious films – “Lone Star” and “A Time to Kill” in 1996, for example; “Amistad” in 1997.
So “Matthew McConaughey vs. the Devil” doesn’t make much sense from the get-go. It is not, however, completely damnable. The music is never less than competent – although there’s no “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)” (a song from another show it superficially imitates, “Damn Yankees.”) But the real salvation for this show is in the production values – kudos to director Thomas Caruso, choreographer Billy Griffin, and the design team — and thanks to the performers.
Lesli Margherita, who was the evil Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda on Broadway, is striking in a bright red dress, handing out a business card as if an agent in a management firm run by Satan. Wayne Wilcox as Matthew and Max Crumm as his pal Woody Harrelson have a fun duet together. Ensemble members are employed to great effect – serving as everything from living props to backup singer and dancers, to a dream come to life…a fun dance sequence that features costume designer Daryl A. Stone’s delectable interpretations of the things supposedly in Matthew McConaughey’s life — an Oscar trophy and a marijuana plant.
Recently, James Franco had a lawyer send a cease and desist letter to a downtown play called “James Franco and Me.” The playwright was unfazed: “We’re just going to remove any mention of James Franco,” he told the Daily News. “We’re calling it ‘______ and Me’ “
I’d love to see a show assembled by the talented team who put together and performed “Matthew McConaughey vs. the Devil” that removed any mention of Matthew McConaughey.
Matthew McCanughey vs. The Devil: An American Myth is performing through Sunday, July 16, 2017 at Theatre Row, as part of the New York Musical Festival.
Two songs recorded during rehearsals: