The Wrong Man
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Theater review by Adam Feldman
“What if I’m based on an untrue story?” sings Duran (Joshua Henry) in the opening song of The Wrong Man. Yes, what if? What if almost nothing in Ross Golan’s bleak noir-toned musical had the ring of real situations? What if Golan, a successful Top 40 songwriter, had written a song cycle about an innocent man on the run, peppered it with references to Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” (Reno, a man in black, the prison itself), but given no thought to its basic plausibility? And what if all of the show’s contrivances were not even in the service of juicy twists, but were devoted instead to a one-track plot that railroaded the audience to a ghost-town destination?
Such are the frustrations of The Wrong Man, which follows the hapless Duran through a series of bummers connected to a seductive badass named Mariana (Ciara Renée) and her pyschotic ex (Ryan Vasquez, who plays Duran at some performances). The show’s production at MCC gives it every possible advantage. Hamilton’s Thomas Kail directs it with intense panache; Alex Lacamoire’s arrangements bring out the score's pop polish; the lighting and sound are impeccable. But while the music is fresh, the musical is cramped. Golan's songs are narrative, not dramatic, and there are barely any characters, much less character development. (“Good people do bad things,” sings Mariana, but even that truism fails to apply to anyone in the show. The villain sings a Santana-style number about being an “evil man.”) Some storytelling slack is picked up by Travis Wall’s excellent choreography—a slashing pas de deux between dancers Tilly Evans-Krueger and Kyle Robinson is especially memorable—and the supremely gifted Henry sings about half of the score himself, adding interest and ardor to material that too often only recaps what we already know. You may find yourself wishing that Henry could escape. He’s the right man in the right place in the wrong show.
MCC Theater (Off Broadway). Book, music and lyrics by Ross Golan. Directed by Thomas Kail. With Joshua Henry, Ciara Renée, Ryan Vasquez. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission.