In this slight musical comedy with an on-the-nose title, Broadway veteran Bryonha Marie Parham portrays a fading diva named Regina Comet who hires two aspiring jingle writers (Alex Wyse and Ben Fankhauser, who also wrote the musical in which they’re performing) to create a jingle for her new fragrance, Relevant. She hopes it will make her relevant with teenagers, and revive her career. Parham is a terrific singer and a game comedienne, and the premise of “A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet” is nonsensical enough that it could have fueled a wacky spot-on parody of the music industry and the world of celebrity. Wyse and Fankhauser certainly try: Regina meets them for lunch at a restaurant called The Flourishing Pig, “the hottest vegan nightspot in The Meatpacking District.” But the satire generally feels halfhearted.
The creative duo seem more engaged in attempting to channel their Borscht Belt ancestors. This sometimes means signaling “Jewish humor” that’s more Jewish than humorous: As kids, the two songwriting characters wrote a musical at Camp Rosenblatt entitled “Sukkot, Mama, Sukkot.” But it also means some delightfully silly sight gags, for which scenic designer Wilson Chin and costume designer Sarita Fellows deserve some of the kudos. The jingle writers, who are also apparently roommates, keep a picture of Barry Manilow under a spotlight on the wall, the way less secular worshippers might place a photograph of the Pope. Billed as the first new musical to premiere in New York City since the shutdown began, the show is most knowing and hilarious about the ways we now communicate with one another. When we first meet Regina, she’s framed by a giant smart phone; we’re meant to understand that the three actors standing within inches of one another are as characters talking with one another on the phone. Later, she and one of the writers text to one another (speaking their text aloud), their dialogue reproducing with amusing fidelity the warped lingo and Autocorrect mistakes.
There’s not much of a plot in this 80-minute musical, and the less said about it the better. We see them working on the jingle; they compete for Regina’s attention; they fight; things work out differently at the end than expected. The story serves as a rickety vehicle for the almost two dozen songs, which have serviceable melodies (nothing I found as catchy as a jingle), and lyrics that sometimes made me laugh despite myself. “I wanna hire you to do that voodoo only you do ooh-ooh-ooh.”
Wyse and Fankhauser both have extensive credits as performers, including on Broadway, which made me think it odd they were so self-effacing with their characters. They don’t even name them; they are just Man 2 and Other Man. (The characters are nameless In the current Sanctuary City, too, but in that play the reason for doing so is clear.) At one point Man 2 (Fankhauser) says to Other Man (Wyse): “No one cares about you and me. You’re single, gay and mean. And I’m a beautiful stallion who wears too much khaki.” It’s a silly line, and, ok, it’s funny. But there’s not much follow-through on any of those supposed character traits, and, by the glittery finale, we haven’t been given much more reason to care.
A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet
DR2 Theater through November 14, 2021
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $55 to $125 (Lottery: $39)
Book, music and lyrics by Alex Wyse and Ben Fankhauser
Directed by Marshall Pailet
Choreography by Stephanie Klemons
Scenic design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Sarita Fellows,lighting design by Aja M. Jackson, sound design by Twi McCallum, music director Alex Goldie Golden, production stage manager Hannah Woodward
Cast: Bryonha Marie Parham, Alex Wyse and Ben Fankhauser