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Delightfully zany musical melodrama, 'Madame X'

A curvaceous shopgirl with a questionable past wins a beauty contest, and the heart and hand in marriage of its respectable host. But can she keep her true, sex-starved nature in check while living with her traveling husband's Machiavellian mother in a mansion in Connecticut?
/ Source: The Associated Press

A curvaceous shopgirl with a questionable past wins a beauty contest, and the heart and hand in marriage of its respectable host. But can she keep her true, sex-starved nature in check while living with her traveling husband's Machiavellian mother in a mansion in Connecticut?

And so unspools a new melodramatic musical comedy by Gerard Alessandrini, the delightfully zany "Madame X," part of the ongoing New York Musical Theatre Festival, currently in very limited performance off-Broadway at the 47th Street Theatre.

Alessandrini, responsible for the 27 entertaining annual musical spoofs known as "Forbidden Broadway," directs the show, having written the book, music and lyrics, along with co-creator and writer Robert Hetzel. On display here are Alessandrini's trademark witty send-ups of long-familiar characters, based on the 1905 play by Alexandre Bisson, and "every movie and musical between 1946 and 1966." The production is laden with clever puns ("the Cuban Missle-toe crisis" at Christmastime) and double entendres, aided by adroitly funny choreography and musical staging by James Horvath

The mirth-filled first act charts the rise of one Bunny Bixby, (a lovely, comedic portrayal by Donna English) who marries U.S. Congressman Cliff Henderson (the versatile Michael West) and has an adorable young son, but falls prey to treachery by those close to her, led by her own easily-tempted nature.

As Bunny chronicles her journey from bored, wealthy, sex-starved housewife — and loving mother — to miserable, exiled, international party girl with no name, English sings beautifully. She perfectly maintains the Hollywood-classic, haunted expression of a saintly sinner, except when slinking through naughty numbers like "Don't Think About Sex."

Janet Dickinson is delightfully arch as snooty Evelyn, Cliff's cold-hearted, aristocratic mother, who plots against Bunny from the moment she first learns her son will marry someone so unsuitable. Dickinson, who gleefully belts out all her numbers, is especially dazzling on the showstopper, "Everything's Green in Greenwich," about how "bluebloods keep it cool" in that old-moneyed Connecticut suburb.

West, long known for lending his comedic talent to "Forbidden Broadway," hams it up with aplomb as Henderson and as a flamboyant film agent. Edward Staudenmayer, another longtime "Forbidden Broadway" alumnus, nicely plays two sleazy types to whom Bunny falls prey during her ever-deepening free fall from decency into addiction (absinthe!) and, eventually, prostitution.

Jordan Goldberg is adorably precocious as little Cliff Jr. A strutting trio of chorus boys (Bill Coyne, Mike Longo and Sean Bell) do an outstanding job singing and dancing throughout the show. Coyne is very strong in musical numbers in the second act, portraying grown up Cliff Jr., now a lawyer defending a confessed murderer who refuses to give her name.

Even the tragic events are laden with punch lines, although there are genuinely poignant moments, too, as when Bunny sings "By Your Side" with young Cliff Jr., and later, "There's Always A Man (But Never A Name)" a song cleverly developed from the tagline on a poster for the 1966 film "Madame X" starring Lana Turner.

As fated, the show ends in tragedy, with the sweetly schmaltzy ensemble number, "Never Let Them Know." A droll parody of tear-jerkers about overly self-sacrificing mothers, "Madame X" contains nuggets of truth about maternal love, even if Mother is sometimes, as Dickinson sings unashamedly, "The Biggest Mother of Them All."

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Online: http://www.nymf.org