L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry News Contacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Theatre in Review

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

Theatre in Review: The World According to Micki Grant (New Federal Theatre at WP Theater)

Matelyn Alice. Photo: Gerry Goodstein

It's time to talk about Micki Grant; truthfully, it's usually time to talk about Micki Grant, something we haven't done enough lately, leaving her considerable achievements in danger of being forgotten. Her 1971 revue, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, was a Broadway blockbuster, running over 1,000 performances. (It was briefly revived by Encores at City Center in 2018.) Your Arms Too Short to Box with God, to which she contributed a substantial portion of the score, ran a year on Broadway; it enjoyed two return engagements, one of which introduced a newcomer named Jennifer Holliday. Grant wrote several more musicals and contributed three outstanding numbers to Stephen Schwartz's revue Working. She did all this while maintaining a busy career as an actress, breaking the color bar in daytime drama with a seven-year run on Another World. A great many artists have become better known for doing considerably less. Somebody should put together a straight-up biographical piece about her.

In the meantime, we have The World According to Micki Grant, a celebration that only hints at its title figure's accomplishments. It touches on certain milestones in the life of the woman originally known as Minnie Lou Perkins of Chicago. (She replaced her hated first name as soon as she could; the surname was a souvenir of her first marriage.) We hear about her early success in pop music, penning "Pink Shoe Laces," a kicky bit of nonsense that Dodie Stevens took to number three on the singles charts; her friendship with the golden-age songwriter Jimmy McHugh; her consequential creative partnership with the writer/director Vinnette Carroll; the thrill of success with Don't Bother Me...; and her bitterness when a follow-up piece, It's So Nice to be Civilized, arrived on Broadway so changed she no longer recognized it. (It lasted eight performances.)

But in Nora Cole's script, drawn from Grant's writings, these points are made in such scattershot fashion that it's difficult to get a solid sense of the artist's life. (As a performer, Cole was in the 1982 iteration of Your Arms Too Short to Box with God) For example, Grant's relationship with Carroll goes largely unexamined, even though the latter presided over her biggest successes and perhaps her biggest failure. The latter would be the 1978 musical, Alice, based on Alice in Wonderland. A high-profile effort produced by Mike Nichols, Alice might have solidified Grant's place in the Broadway universe but it flamed out during its Philadelphia tryout. A year later, Carroll, who had written the book of and directed Alice, opened another Alice in Wonderland musical, But Never Jam Today, featuring a score by other writers; it closed after a week. It's also interesting to note that It's So Nice to Be Civilized arrived a year later, under the direction of Frank Corsaro, after which Grant's output slowed considerably.

If Cole doesn't want to delve into such episodes, never mind Grant's personal life or groundbreaking acting career in TV, she could focus more intensively on her songs, which feature an attractive, soul-inflected pop sound. (Occasionally, they resemble the work of her contemporary Galt MacDermot.) The score of Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope captures the tenor of the times; it's bold, assertive, hopeful, and bursting with life. But The World According to Micki Grant offers a thinnish selection from Grant's catalog. (Alice is represented with three numbers, which may not be to the songwriter's advantage.) Instead, the show is filled with prose passages (good, but needing more context) and mostly unilluminating poetry detailing Grant's musings, several of which tend to ramble. If we're not going to get her life story, the best possible use of the show's time would be to showcase her prodigious gifts as a composer and lyricist.

Under Coles' direction, aided by the surprisingly generic musical staging of Lakai Worrell the numbers are not always shown in their best light. If you've grown used to the fierce interpretations of "Cleanin' Women" and "If I Could've Been" from the original cast album of Working -- both indelibly delivered by the late, great Lynne Thigpen -- you may be surprised by the dainty way they are handled here. This is nothing against the cast -- Matelyn Alicia and April Armstrong are practiced charmers, Patrice Bell has a beguilingly eccentric quality, and Brian Davis has a roof-raising voice -- but they could be better used.

The rest of the production is briskly efficient and sometimes better than that. Patrice Davidson's set design embeds musical staves and a disc in the floor, reminding us that the music is the thing, Victor En Yu Tan's solid lighting, Ali Turns' costumes, and Aalics Bronson's sound all get the job done. Michele Baldwin's projections -- of Grant at various ages plus images of Carroll, McHugh, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and others -- bring an entire chapter of show-business history to life.

Whatever its flaws, fans interested in boning up on this lesser-known chapter of musical theatre history may want to check out The World According to Micki Grant although the cast albums of Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope and Your Arms Too Short to Box with God are available for streaming. But this tribute doesn't entirely do right by its subject. Less talking, please, and much more music. --David Barbour

(7 June 2024)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook