Almost everyone in New York has a few apartment horror stories, whether they're the "what's that thing that just scuttled across my floor" kind, or the "I'd rather pay the extra thou per month in rent than have to search for a place again" kind. Between the cast's friends and family, real estate people, and disgruntled renters, a show like Co-Op: A Comedy of Epic Pretensions, now playing at the Producers Club, is pretty much guaranteed a solid audience. But it takes more than a strong hook to make a strong show, one of the many neglected details in this underwhelming musical production. Anyone familiar with the Arthurian legend will quickly get a handle on the plot. HouseProud Towers, a grand apartment building on the Upper West Side, once had a great co-op board president named Uther Pendragon. When Uther was killed in his sleep, the building fell into disrepair. During these dark times, Uther's secret son, Arthur, was growing up in the basement, raised by the Scottish janitor Codger.
When Arthur turns 26, he inherits his father's apartment and assumes his rightful place as the board president. This news does not sit well with Omelet du Mal, Uther's secret lover and the mother of his son (and Arthur's half-brother) Morton. Will Omelet realize her plan to topple Arthur and seize control of the building? Will Arthur discover his wife Galleria's infidelity with fitness guru Litmus the Pure? (Do you remember how the King Arthur story ended?)
Of course, the point of a homage is not to change the story but to tell it in an interesting or amusing way. John Cecil's version suffers from too many words and jokes that don't go anywhere. The conceit of mixing details from the Middle Ages and the present day is tricky to achieve, and is not achieved here. His script would have been more effective if he had committed fully to modern times.
During the segues from speech to song, the cast is hindered by prerecorded music that doesn't provide the warmth or correct timing of a live band. The actors would sometimes have to wait for the tape to kick in, and the music was unappealingly tinny, like songs that came preprogrammed into 1980s Yamaha organs. Choreography was minimal, with the exception of the silly "Can I Kiss the Bride?" number, which featured Litmus's exercise-inspired dance moves.
The cast seemed lost, with each actor trying his or her own take on the style of the production. Some were a little over the top, and some were too realistic. Orion Simprini (as Litmus) and Jenn Marie Jones (as Galleria) had a few funny moments but were not able to sustain them. This can be attributed to letting the writer also serve as director. An impartial observer would have given the actors more to do, instead of arrogantly assuming that the dialogue would carry the show on its own.
The producers of Co-Op put advertisements in the real estate section of a newspaper, a cunning tactic that brought in several people. Their Friday night performance was completely packed, and the audience was ready to enjoy the show. It's a shame that this good fortune was squandered by putting on a show that wasn't ready for an audience.