Cellphones, the new rock musical written and directed by Sesame Street veteran William Electric Black, claims that it is "the only show in town where they ask you to turn your cellphone ON!" Now strictly speaking, this is true. The performance opens with a jazzy number titled "Turn Your Cellphone On." However, this song was preceded by several emphatic announcements that the audience's cell phones should, in fact, be turned off. This contradiction exemplifies the internal struggle that forced Cellphones to waver between a merely pleasant show and a really engaging piece of theater. While the production's use of audience participation and its tongue-in-cheek approach to its topical content (the war in Iraq, the Internet, and pornography, to name but a few subjects) encouraged an unusual or even subversive theatrical experience, ultimately Cellphones was not willing to accept the risks that come with such boundary breaking.
The story is concerned with 11 strangers who show up at dawn to a new Department of Homeland Security recruiting booth opening in Central Park. They each want a job protecting our country, but for various unpatriotic reasons: a teenager is running away from home, another girl just wants to be famous, and someone else simply wants a gun. As they wait for the booth to open, the strangers "rock out" about current issues, both of the political and pop-culture variety. The songs are fun in a candy-coated way, and the music jumps adroitly between styles, from salsa to 50's to revival gospel.
The cast is wildly energetic and displays its vocal talents with great aplomb. Although some songs drag as a result of too much formulaic repetition, Black and his collaborators (Joel Diamond, music, and Matt Williams, choreography) should be commended for allowing the multifaceted cast