It’s rather ironic that a musical about Wal-Mart has now twice debuted in the one metropolitan area that does not have one, but no matter where this limp, stridently overemphatic tuner would land itself, it would still be a missed opportunity. A 2006 Fringe Festival favorite that, despite its much-ballooned budget (David Korins’ towering set design could easily pass on a Broadway stage) and revamped book and musical staging, it still plays like a work-in-progress, despite the injection of some top-shelf talent.
One of the problems is the show’s inherent schizophrenia. It begins as a half-satiric, half-earnest tract about the evil, corporate nature of Wal-Mart and especially its effect on a mother-daughter duo, the hard-working, promotion-due Vicki (Cheryl Freeman) and her rebellious daughter Maia (Nikki M. James), before hurtling into a bizarre, Rocky Horror-esque science fiction “what if?” depicting Wal-Mart as the overlord of society, where it has transformed schools, the military, and even the arts into a robotic Stepford nation. Straight away, these two approaches do not congeal into coherency, as any attempt at blunt satire is drained away when our two heroines take center stage, and despite Freeman and James’ considerable chops, it gives the effect of pouring molasses on filet mignon. Shouldn’t a musical about sticking it to the establishment be a little, well, anti-establishment?
The score, by newcomer husband and wife duo Catherine Capellaro & Andrew Rohn, is far too tepid (not to mention irritatingly family-safe in the era of South Park, which already parodied this topic much more savagely) in its design to make much of an impression musically, and the show has been directed to make the supporting cast mug us into submission, and it rarely ever seems to work. (Only Stephen DeRosa, in a variety of goofy roles, has the requisite charisma to make them more than caricatures.) And for all the platitudes about how evil the company is, the production may end up having an adverse effect as it broadcasts the name Wal-Mart approximately once every 10 seconds (free advertising!). But the company need not fear: Even it would conclude that this is product best left on the shelf. C- (Tickets: 212-307-4100 or Ticketmaster.com)