Playwright: book, music and lyrics by Thomas Michael Allen, Sally
Allen, Joe Allen, Marya Grandy and E. Andrew Sensening
At: The Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway
Phone: 773-472-3492; $45
Runs through: open
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
The search for meaning among corporate drones stifled by their lockstep lives is a dramatic theme dating back to Elmer Rice in 1921. And comedy squads composed of the Fat Guy, the Handsome Guy, the Bland Guy, the Bossy Chick and the Ditzy Chick have been accepted practice since 1955. You can't sing with a sour scowl on your face, however, and so this musical revue is NOT merely another post-Dilbert white-collar whine, but a sympathetic as well as satirical reaffirmation of clipboard-and-cubicle culture.
The framing device is a group of employees told on Monday that they must have a 'presentation' ready by Friday. ( Fittingly, we never learn the name of their company, what it does or what the project is to accomplish. ) For the next 90 minutes, we follow the team as it confronts the thousand natural shocks that paper-pushers are heir to. The working mother regrets the time stolen from her family. The Don Juan, with an ego as big as it is fragile, cowers helplessly before the anonymous indifference of the Internet helpline. The chirpy newbie struggles to prove herself worthy and likable.
The Sondheimesque score includes original odes to intergender etiquette, with the enlightened males swaggering their nonsexist urbanity as they disco-dance like The Village People. There are also odes to female self-promotional strategies ( 'If you want a career, put the men in the rear' ) and the roving computer repairman, characterized as a quasi-Clint Eastwood mercenary complete with Ennio Maricone-styled flourishes ( courtesy of Jeremy Ramey on reception-desk piano ) . And then there's the felking: new lyrics set to such classics as The Great Pretender, In My Room, the Who Will Buy? chorale from Oliver! and that polyphonic reliable, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.
The precision-drilled cast features Tempe Thomas, fresh from Provision Theatre's runaway-hit production of The Spitfire Grill; Matthew Amador, shaking his Armani-clad bonbon; and Adam Kozlowski, successor to the roles formerly the province of Bradley Mott. In addition, there are the sturdy vocals of Jason Bayle and Holly Stauder. Under Kurt Johns' quick-paced, high-stepping direction, their unflagging sparkle and intimate audience rapport make Water Coolers the perfect office-party outing.