Mystery on the Maternity Ward

Few murder mysteries have entered the recent theatrical canon, and even fewer musical ones. The last one that immediately comes to mind is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, based on Charles Dickens's final, unfinished work, and even that one nabbed the Tony almost two decades ago. Part of the difficulty in mounting such a production is that there are many elements to oversee. The plot's events need to be plausible and should keep the audience guessing until the big revelation, which then must make sense. And for the play to be truly successful, all the suspects must be real characters rather than just walking and talking potential motives. Quiet Cry, a PASSAJJ production at the Lion Theatre on Theatre Row, purports to be a musical murder mystery, but falls a little short of the necessary criteria.

Ambiguously set in the 1980's in the maternity ward of a fictitious New York hospital, Cry primarily tells the story of the sensitive Dr. Bill (Robert Kane) and a hospital worker, Sarah (Elena Stauffer). These two are drawn to each other amid a most depressing background: they observe drug-addicted prostitutes admitted to their hospital to give birth, along with equally strung-out transvestites.

Many of the characters comment on how horrible these women are, but while Adam Dick's book looks down upon them and their decadent lifestyle, Paul Dick's music and lyrics never echo this sentiment. Director Andrea Andresakis's production itself never expresses anger and judgment to match some of the characters' early outrage, and though it plods along for two hours, it fails to do so with the audience in its thrall.

Specific plot points are essential to any good (or even lukewarm) mystery, so I will not reveal too many details in this review. But suffice it to say that there aren't too many. The entire first act consists almost exclusively of exposition, with the Dicks telling the audience who the characters are and where they come from. But they do so with one or two background details that then repeat and repeat themselves.

The first act alone consists of 11 songs in 10 scenes. Ordinarily, that would be a rather impressive number, but these songs only say so much, and then they, too, become redundant. This kind of wall-to-wall music makes the entire musical feel hollow when it should feel enriched. As a result, the more suspenseful action disappoints. And said action does not even begin until the end of Act One, when one of the ward's newborns is found dead.

Cry bears a sense of tentativeness, the kind found in more amateur productions than this should have been. Andresakis's lack of fluid pacing seems to have unnerved some of the actors. Kane, though blessed with a rich voice, ends his songs with no gusto, and while he makes Dr. Bill seem like the sweetheart he should appear to be, the actor sometimes comes across as too hammy. Shea Hess, as Emma, the leading addicted-mother character, has a sweet voice, but Paul Dick tests her range too often for her to pass every time.

The performer who fares the best is Kit Williams, as the Nurse. While strong throughout, she particularly nails her showstopper at the end of the first act, "There'll Come a Day."

Cry may be a problem child right now, but it remains rife with potential. With much tightening and revision, there is no reason to think it couldn't improve.

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