One Order of Music, Hold the Talking

If there were such a thing as a jukebox musical in the early 20th Century, The Consuming Passions of Lydia Pinkham and Rev. Sylvester Graham would be it, replete with catchy tunes and a thin, contrived plot. The Consuming Passions… is not the torture that some jukebox musicals of more recent years have been. The cast of Margery Cohen (also credited for the conception and script) and Joseph Neal are clearly enjoying themselves and, to the great benefit of the play, their humor is contagious. Still, it cannot save a script whose author fails to deliver, or even apparently decide upon, a coherent concept. Cohen's product falls somewhere between foody-friendly musical romp and middle-aged romance.

The foody-friendly bits are decidedly more palatable.

The characters are based on the real life Lydia E. Pinkham (Cohen), who, during the 19th Century, developed an alcohol-heavy vegetable compound to keep women healthy, and Rev. Sylvester Graham (Neal) who, around the same time, lectured on the importance of whole grains and the need to curb sexual cravings. In The Consuming Passions... the two meet on a train as they travel the Northeast selling and preaching, respectively. Somehow (and this is where the story starts to fade away) the independent Pinkham and the sex-shunning Graham fall for each other and as their simpering flirtation begins the dialogue devolves into hackneyed innuendo.

Cohen and Neal both have wonderful voices and that, coupled with the uninspired book, makes it all the more relieving when they break into the musical's songs, which range from traditional Irish folk tunes to vaudevillian duets. And although a few selections disappoint, there are still some entertaining nuggets. One in particular about the hot dog-making process comes to mind.

My suggestion: skip the show. If you are truly hungry for food-themed music, go to and buy the recording instead (although since the asking price is $40, I have to most heartily recommend skipping this, too).

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