Friday, August 21, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Popesical: A Papal Musical Comedy at Theatre 80 by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Adam Overett's Popesical: A Papal Musical Comedy at Theatre 80 was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Popesical: A Papal Musical Comedy
Book, Music & Lyrics by Adam Overett
Directed & Choreographed by Drew Geraci
Theatre 80
80 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 8/20/15 

The 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival has over 200 shows in its lineup. When they were announced, I recommended Popesical: A Papal Musical Comedy (and three other shows) to the membership of the Beaux Arts Society (, a prestigious arts organization founded in 1857. If they listened to my advice and purchased tickets at, then they are set to see one of most amazing and entertaining new musicals of the year. If they, or you, have not yet purchased your reasonably priced $18.00 tickets, do so now (I mean now! Even before reading the rest of this review!) because otherwise it may be too late. There are very few tickets left to this hilarious, irreverent, five-star play with its stellar cast and outrageously funny premise. If you miss out, don't worry. I guarantee Popesical is destined for a very long Off-Broadway, and possible Broadway, run. The only problem is that by then, you will need to pay eight to ten times more for a ticket but it will still be worth your time, effort and money to see this memorable and moving musical comedy.

The premise is that the Pope is dead and the remaining Cardinals must gather in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new Pope by 2/3 vote. This process has historically been secret, but now all is revealed. A most exalted, brass, phallus-looking, chimney of St. Peter (together with a recorded soundtrack added in the 1980s) guides the Cardinals through required exercises that challenge their physical abilities, mental acuity, and spiritual purity. The Roman Catholic Cardinals are required to play Biblical Chairs, The Ten Commandment Hot Potato, and Sinner In The Middle prior to voting. 

The problem is that the old Pope, "in his loving goodness, made a Cardinal of just about anyone," and now that most of the members of the College of Cardinals died on a Caribbean Cruise, all who are left are "Heathens, Whores & Homos," says the conservative, hunchback, trollish, tyrant Cardinalissimo Francisco Franco (Rachel Coloff, Urinetown). She is a leading contender along with the eager, spirited, and charismatic Cardinal McCafferty (Stephen Christopher Anthony, The Book of Mormon), a young Irish lad (suffering from the Irish Curse) who questions the entire process and has an attraction (which he won't admit to himself) to Cardinal Bergenstein (David Perlman, Baby, It's You!), who was brought up Jewish until he got the "calling" to join the priesthood. Also competing for the honor of being named the next Pope are the shy Aussie Cardinal Wallaby (Susan J. Jacks, Forbidden Broadway); the mute, unitard-clad, ballet-dancing Cardinal Fouette (Lucas Thompson, Cats), who is seduced in the Sistine Chapel by the oversexed, Southern belle, former mental patient Cardinal St. Louis (Danette Holden, Annie & Shrek The Musical); the foul, mouthed New Jersey Cardinal Robin (Alexa Green, Wicked), who can't put down her cell phone and wants to be Pope for the clothing; and the unflappable, non-Asian looking Cardinal Hu-Jin Chao (Jason Veasey, The Lion King).

Each and every actor in this musical was exceptional and extraordinary. The songs were upbeat, funny, and oftentimes moving. I particularly liked "Pope!,", "He Could Be The One," "I Love You Always," and "Different." I look forward to the cast album coming out so I can listen to the songs in this musical over and over again. Many are destined to become classics. The only problem was with the sound system that crackled and interfered with the audience's enjoyment of the show. A few of the female performers had microphone problems and I was unable to hear the lyrics clearly even though I was sitting in the second row. There are a few things I would immediately change. The first is that even though Cardinalissimo Francisco Franco's speech impediment is "funny" (after all, who doesn't laugh at other people's handicaps), it was still difficult to sometimes understand what she was saying (was that "The Face Of Our Faith"?). Second, while I easily can suspend my disbelief (for example, accepting that all the other Cardinals died together when a Caribbean Cruise Ship sank), it is hard for me to accept the outrageous assertion that the Cardinalissimo is the Baby who ate Cardinal Wallaby's dingo, or that the tall, male, well-endowed, African-American looking Asian Cardinal Hu-Jin Chao is really Patricia, the sister of Cardinal Robin from New Jersey. These cross the line to the point they detract rather than add to the story, but all are an easy fix. 

I kept a smile on my face from the opening number to the final selection of the new Pope. The musical's tone, in its silliness, reminded me very much of Nunsense, but Adam Overett, who wrote the book for this musical hit a home run both by making all of the characters likable (with the exception of Cardinalissimo Francisco Franco), and by interweaving into the story a serious, first-love attraction between Cardinal McCafferty (Pure as a Pearl from Perth) and Cardinal Bergenstein, who had some of the funniest lines in the musical. Cardinal Bergenstein asks whether "it would be wrong to ask him out for some communion wine?" and after he comes upon Cardinal McCafferty looking in the Bible for clues regarding how to select the next Pope, Cardinal Bergenstein suggests the answer may not be in there. After all, he says, "the Bible doesn't say anything about sharing a sleeping bag with a fellow Cardinal and there's nothing wrong with that!" McCafferty: "What?", Bergenstein: "What?" - just hilarious! Then there are more serious moments such as when McCafferty insists, "I am not." Bergenstein says, "Yes you are." McCafferty: "Are what?" Bergenstein: You are different. You are special and that's O.K.!" In the end, Cardinal McCafferty accepts the "g-word" to describe himself. He admits, "I am guilty. I need to be myself. I have lied to all of you, and I have betrayed him - someone who loved me!"

You will also learn that "Hope is a fickle slut, and always has been," and that if you choose to abandon your honesty and integrity because you hold the cynical opinion that "what the faithful believe is all that matters," then you should at least make sure you are walking out the right window onto a balcony when your moment comes.

Popesical: A Papal Musical Comedy is a politically incorrect, blasphemous, totally offensive, breath of fresh air that will be around for decades. It is destined to become a Cult Classic. If you patronize the show and help it achieve its Papal Dreams, they may even eventually decide to set free the "little boy they keep chained behind the organ"). Its message is that after all else, it is love that matters most and that, with love, both you and the world can be transformed. Now that the new Pope has been selected, let's party and papalize! The only thing that was missing from the after party of this FringePLUS event was the cast singing Tom Lehrer's The Vatican Rag, which would have been a perfect ending to a perfect evening. For more information about Popesical: A Papal Musical Comedy, visit

No comments:

Post a Comment