This review of Bastard Jones at The Cell Theatre was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Book, Lyrics & Direction by Marc Acito
Music & Lyrics by Amy Engelhardt
Choreography by Joe Barros
The Cell Theatre
338 West 23rd Street
New York, New York 10011
Bastard Jones started out with a bang and ended with an earth shaking finale. Simply put, well done. The play told the oft-comedic tale of Tom Jones, a 1749 story of a bastard ward to an English squire named Allworthy. After release, the book was condemned for having been lewd and was credited with causing a number of earthquakes. The cultural commentary still resonated today with a well-constructed plot revolving around the love affair between the bastard Jones and Sophia Shepherd, a Reverend's daughter. My initial thought was that this exemplary off-Broadway production seems poised to make a push toward larger audiences. Marc Acito, the writer of Allegiance, did a superb job of weaving amusing action between entertaining songs setting the stage for gripping reveals. He and lyricist Amy Engelhardt were aided by an energetic cast with strong vocal talent that provided us ample opportunity to bask in awe.
"When a low-born's heart can bleed such kindness, it makes us think of God," sings Bridget, Squire Allworthy's frequently ill sister, played by the lovely Cheryl Stern. She ponders the fate of young Tom Jones just before she makes a pivotal decision to aid him by unveiling a secret that may shatter her own reputation. It's at this moment we learn the most about each character. Squire Allworthy has fallen ill after stopping to aid a pregnant woman in the street. Tom, his bastard ward played by an exceptional Evan Ruggiero, remained by his side. Meanwhile, his true nephew Mr. Blifil, brought to life by a witty Matthew McGloin, drank and conspired with Reverend Shepherd to wed the Reverend's daughter. Reverend Shepard, played by Adam B. Shapiro, was one of the most hilarious actors in this musical. He played the role of the chief antagonist as he shouted Damnation and Fornication as Tom Jones vied for his daughter's virtue. So, what is Bridget contemplating as she watches Tom by her brother's side?
Tom has done himself no favors to this point. He slept with a local beauty, Molly, given cheeky flair by Alie B. Gorrie, who became pregnant while his first love Sophia was away. Sophia loves Tom too, but she is concerned by his promiscuity and drunkenness. She confesses her love and sexual awakening with one of the most memorable songs of the night, proclaiming, "I felt a tingle." However, he has an honest and kind heart which Bridget intends to reward. She writes a short letter before dying, which she handed to the Reverend. He gives it to Mr. Blifil, her son, who after reading it quickly disposes of it. When Tom rushes out to share the news that the Squire is alive and then heads out for a night on the town, Blifil seizes the moment to report Tom's misdemeanors to Squire Allworthy as evidence that Tom was not at his bedside during the bleak moments. As Allworthy issues a sentence of banishment, the song "Born To Be Hanged" is sung with gusto by all. At the same time the sentence is being issued, Tom discovers that Molly has been sleeping with the Reverend. Tom breaks it off with her so he can be with Sophia. Before he can rejoice, he discovers he has been banished.
This sequence of events sets up the remainder of the play. Tom saves a Mrs. Waters on the road, and Sophia runs away to avoid Blifil. The two meet in an Inn on the road, and when Sophia catches Tom fornicating with Mrs. Waters, she flees to London. Tom chases after her but is unsuccessful in persuading her to hear his pleas as Lady Bellaston arrives. Crystal Lucus-Perry stole the second act with a wickedly stunning portrayal of Lady Bellaston. She commands a lord and lover to "Have another oyster, dear" until she is satisfied. She harbors Sophia with her cousin, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and lusts for Tom, who had been promised an audience with Sophia. Tom breaks it off with Lady Bellaston, who, for revenge, conspires to end his life by framing him for the murder of Mr. Fitzpatrick who has been chasing after his wife. As the executioner prepares to carry out his responsibility, the fates align to reveal what Bridget had said in that letter. Tom Jones is actually Bridget's son with the former schoolmaster Partridge, who had become Tom's companion. Upon learning this, Allworthy grants Tom his estate and the other characters reverse their opinions of the former villain. Even Reverend Shepherd admits to his affair with Molly and condones his daughter's marriage to Tom Jones.
I hope you have a chance to see Bastard Jones while it is still running Off-Broadway. The Cell Theatre has brought in a talented cast who added a lot to the story with strong chemistry on stage. My pulse raced as the plot unfolded, and I couldn't be happier with my decision to go see Bastard Jones. I do believe that the jokes about sex never go too far for a modern audience and would be fit for almost anyone over the age of 18. Frankly, you should see Bastard Jones now, before it moves to a larger theatre and the price per ticket soars. If you are looking for a musical comedy that will give you more than a few smiles, Bastard Jones is for you. It will be all the rage soon! Even I hope to see it again! Tickets can be purchased for $40.00 at www.TheCellTheatre.org or by calling 1-800-838-3006.