Monday , May 27 2024
Jessica Frey, Monica Ho, Wesley Zurick, Zoe Siegel in 'In Corpo'
Jessica Frey, Monica Ho, Wesley Zurick, Zoe Siegel in 'In Corpo' (Bjorn Bolinder)

Theater Review (NYC): ‘In Corpo,’ A New Musical by Ben Beckley and Nate Weida

In Corpo is the kind of innovative musical that reassures us of the continuing vitality of the musical theater genre. The world premiere production from The Assembly and Dutch Kills Theater, at Theatre Row through July 8, is futuristic two ways: in its quirky vision of what the corporate workplace might look like on a ruined future Earth, and in its inventive staging and fresh, original aesthetic.

Towards the end, the tuner by Ben Beckley and Nate Weida struggles a while to hack its way to a conclusion. But for the bulk of its two-plus hours it carries us on a strange, fascinating trip through a dystopia that both Franz Kafka and George Orwell would recognize.

A Castle in the Snow

K (Zoe Siegel), lifted from Kafka’s The Castle and re-situated as a shivering survivor of a frozen-over Earth, arrives from the snowy outside world at Corpo Corporation, a hyper-engineered, monolithic headquarters redolent of the pointless, inscrutable bureaucracies that Kafka depicted so iconically (and that Americans know all too well from their health care system). K’s estranged father, Tittorelli, has summoned her to “consult” for his Corpo unit, 13-G. But to what end K doesn’t know.

Find her father mysteriously absent, K discovers his harried assistant, Bendemann (RJ Christian), fruitlessly fighting the Castle bureaucracy to gain the access he needs to assume Tittorelli’s duties. What ensues, as K assimilates into the stiff, stressed-out culture of 3-G, is a brilliantly clever whirlwind of song, dance, mind-reading, surveillance, robots, a randy computer, and incipient love among the ruins.

RJ Christian in "In Corpo"
RJ Christian in ‘In Corpo’ (Bjorn Bolinder)

The Whole Package

Nate Weida’s music is a smooth mix of techno and soul, with catchy melodies, odd time signatures, and luscious multi-part harmonies. Together with lisa nevada’s choreography it incisively reveals the characters’ inner battle between forced conformity and messy humanity. The crackerjack cast, which includes the live synth band, brings it all to life under Jess Chayes’ giddy, emotionally sharp direction, playing out on Nic Benacerraf’s innovative set amid Mary Ellen Stebbins’ brilliantly pumped-up lighting effects.

Skill and energy abound in the cast. Standout voices, in addition to the heart-wrenching Siegel and the stirring Christian, include Wesley Zurick as one of a pair (with the excellent Monica Ho) of delightfully frustrating robots, and Austin Owens Kelly as the IT tech Bartleby, an updated version of Melville’s quietly rebellious scrivener. Jessica Frey meanwhile delivers an affecting portrayal of Pepi, the human resources rep who most vividly portrays the story’s central struggle between the forces of conformity and assimilation and the needs and nature of the pulsing meat that we are.

"In Corpo" cast
‘In Corpo’ cast (Bjorn Bolinder)

The last segment drags a bit, as if the creative team couldn’t pinpoint the precise route to their conclusion. But the show has won our hearts, and our appreciative intellects, long before that – and does so all over again with a final musical meta-surprise. Smart, soulful, and above all truly original, In Corpo reminded me that there’s plenty of creativity in the musical theater world. It’s bubbling up around the eye-candy Broadway extravaganzas and nostalgic golden-age revivals. You just have to come in from the cold (or the stifling heat, wildfire haze, or flooding), and find it.

In Corpo is at Theatre Row through July 8. Tickets and schedule are online or at the box office.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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