This past Thursday I went to the opening night of Captain Filthy Fred, an original musical by Marika Barnett and István L. Vér, and music by Alan Wurman, adapted from the book Dirty Fred, The Captain by Hungarian author Jenő Rejtő. The show was directed by Timea Zsedely.
Let’s start with before the show even started. I walked into the La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre and walked up to the box office, expecting to find my ticket waiting for me. The man there told me that he doesn’t have the tickets for this show, and that they have them upstairs. The woman in front of me had accidentally already paid him, thinking she was buying a ticket, but also was told that they don’t have them downstairs. After going upstairs we were told that no one seemed to have tickets available for purchase at all, but the man working by the door assured me he would let me in. I asked about playbills, so I could write this review, and no one seemed to know where they were, either. About half an hour later, the room was getting pretty packed. There were women folding playbills at a table, and audience members asking them about tickets. When I went over to pick one up, I was told there wasn’t a ticket being held for me, and that tickets were only available online (which surprised everybody expecting to be able to buy at the door). However, the women were gracious and put my name on the list without too many questions, so I was set to go in. It was now almost 7:45pm, when they said doors would open for this 8:00pm show. There were already quite a few people gathered in this non-air conditioned room, with more arriving as time went on. We were all standing in front of the doors, wanting to get good seats when they let us in. We could hear the piano faintly in the background as we waited, until finally we were let into the theatre, several minutes after 8:00. The grumpiness of the people waiting in the hot room outside didn’t follow us inside, however, when we were met with a pleasantly cool theatre.
We filed into our seats, with four sailors (Andrea Galata, Kieron Anthony, Yarin Brosh, Ryan Breen) already onstage, sitting together at a table as they drink. There’s a live orchestra just off stage right, a few sets of tables and chairs, wooden boards stacked up vertically, and a large white sheet hanging against the curtain center stage. The set was nice, however it became a bit confusing later when the scene called for a different location but was met by an unchanging set.
"[Csaba Gerner, Shoko Fujita, and Flora Kinyik] moved beautifully, filling the stage with elegance and grace."
As the show starts, the sailors continue drinking. We see a man writing on a balcony on stage left, his face partly obscured by the railing. Occasionally throughout the show he will say a line and we’ll see his face, followed by his quote, projected onto the white sheet at the back of the stage. Fred (Michael James Fry) soon runs on stage, and we see why they call him filthy. He is covered in dirt and looks homeless. A fight begins between him and the four sailors, choreographed to the first song of the show. The music is well played and upbeat, making us excited for the fight. While the four sailors have their choreography well synced, the punches being too far away keeps the fight from looking real.
Soon the sailors break into another song. The men are all good singers with strong voices. By the end of the song, all the sailors are down again. The Quartermaster (David Ilku) says that these sailors were his crew, and now he has no one to take aboard tomorrow. Smiley (Daniel Ganze) offers to work all the jobs single handedly.
Once on board the ship, we see the first class and second class passengers filing in. They sing about the differences in the quality of their trips. Overall, the vocals were mainly great, but I wish there had been more dancing in the show. Most of the songs involved simple movements, with one exception. The next song, featuring Ernie Merkoff (Csaba Gerner), brings on two background dancers (Shoko Fujita and Flora Kinyik). The girls moved beautifully, filling the stage with elegance and grace. The dance was short, though, and I wish we had gotten to see more of them.
The next song, a few scenes later, is mainly sung by Madame Bumble (Emma Toth Kronberg). This song is by far the flashiest, with partner lifts and scarves being juggled in the background, and Kronberg’s impressive operatic range.
Daniel Ganze owns the stage during his next song. With Ganze featured in the front of the stage with not much else happening onstage, this song could have dragged on had the performance not been done well. But with the fast paced rock music and Ganze’s high energy, every moment of it was entertaining. Ganze also held nothing back when his character collapsed from exhaustion at the end of his song, throwing himself to the ground in a way that made the audience around me gasp.
Just before the play starts up again, there is an announcement. For reasons still unknown to me, Xander Steel is no longer a part of this production. This confused the audience, but the actors who filled in for Steel’s parts (James David Dirck, Nobuya Nagahama, Kieron Anthony) did so flawlessly.
Soon we see another fight scene. This time the fighting is far more realistic as Samuel (Christopher Kardos) is beaten by various other characters. He is left disheveled and with blood on his face. A nice touch, but not enough to explain why later Alma (Noémi Sárog) does not recognize him. Once he wipes his face and is recognized, the pair sing a lovely duet,
The songs in this show have quite a range, some lean more towards sea shanties, some towards rock, and one love song even sounds like something out of a Disney soundtrack. All the songs are beautifully performed by the orchestra, made up of Fabrizio Sciacca (Bass), Justin Zakrajsek (Flute/Clarinet), Donnie Hogue (Drummer), Abel Garriga (Keyboard 2), Eddie Findeisen (Violin), Flavio Silva (Guitar), Wani Han (First Pianist), Shawn Rhodes (Trombone), Vivian Penham (Cello), with composition and lyrics by Alan Wurman, musical arrangement by Viktor Kong, and musical direction by Jeffrey J Ellenberger.
It was in some cases difficult to keep track of the characters (and to write this review), as some characters were not introduced by name on stage, and not all actors included their character names in their bios.
"Barnett has written a number of full length plays, as well as award winning 10 minute acts."
There were definitely some hiccups along the way, but they were overshadowed by the energy and talent of the performers, as well as the beautiful and catchy tunes of the show.
I was lucky enough to speak with the playwrights Marika Barnett and István L. Vér after the show. They had read the original book Dirty Fred, The Captain some twenty years ago and thought it would make a good musical. Five years ago, when Vér was diagnosed with cancer, the husband and wife decided they wanted to do something positive with their time during the treatments. The pair never imagined their show would premier in New York City. However, this couple is no stranger to the theatre. Barnett has written a number of full length plays, as well as award winning 10 minute acts. The pair plan to go back to Boston to focus on Vér’s health after attending every one of this company’s performances. If they do decide to write another musical, I look forward to seeing it.
Captain Filthy Fred’s closing performance will be at 8 PM tonight at the La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre. Tickets can be found at www.pilvaxproductions.com