The ranks of triple-threat musical theater writers—individuals responsible for book, music, and lyrics—are small. Michael John LaChiusa springs to mind, and Lionel Bart (Oliver!), Frank Loesser (The Most Happy Fella), and Sandy Wilson (The Boy Friend), but just try to think of others. Add to this exclusive club Francine Pellegrino, whose Molasses in January is premiering at the Theater Center. It’s an original book, based only on history—that of Boston’s molasses disaster of 1919, when a tank burst and sent syrup cascading through the streets, killing 21. Pellegrino is not overly experienced in any of these three skills, and she proves to be way better at one of them than the other two.
A retitled version of Regretrosexual—The Love Story, a play written roughly 10 years ago by Dan Rothenberg and Colleen Crabtree, the “new play” Hot Mess is about the authors’ unusual courtship and marriage. Both were comedians working in Los Angeles, and the work focuses on a particular hurdle Rothenberg had to overcome: he had lived as a gay man for two years in San Francisco before meeting and marrying Crabtree. Scrubbing out the “regret” part of the former title and using the catchier Hot Mess eliminates the implication of previous disappointment in the age of political correctness.
A newsreel about faith-based adoption restrictions on Jewish, Muslim and interfaith couples in the state of Texas plays somberly over a smooth jazz gospel concert at the start of The Crusade of Connor Stephens, a new play by Dewey Moss. In between the voices of newsreaders decrying the discriminatory new laws and the gospel choir, an evangelist preacher calls for us to repent our sins and come into the light of the Lord Our God. It’s enough to make a New York audience gag.