During the late 1940’s to mid-1950’s, George Metesky of Waterbury, a former Consolidated Edison employee, disgruntled over an injury received on the job, began a reign of terror in New York City by planting pipe bombs in well-known and well-traveled places in the city. He became known as “The Mad Bomber” and part of his story is now the basis for a world premiere musical at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT.
The show, entitled “Mad Bomber,” is, at best, viewed as what might be the first step in a long process to fully realize its potential. Many new musicals go through a systematic developmental route to work on all aspects of a show. This would involve staged readings, workshop productions, out-of-town tryouts and, finally, opening night. The current production of the “Mad Bomber” could be classified as being at the workshop stage.
There are two areas of the musical that the creative team needs to address. First, is the direction of the show. Many players are introduced at the onset—New York City Mayor, Robert Wagner; Police Commissioner Kennedy; Democratic boss, Carmine DeSapio; James Brussel, a psychiatrist and profiler—with the sole purpose of providing an unnecessary amount of background information (which is already provided in the program). This needless exposition and introduction of real-life characters serves no real purpose in moving the action forward and delays the focus of the musical—the story of George Metesky. However, Charles Monagan, who wrote both book and lyrics to the “Mad Bomber,” has included in the cast two reporters, Sally Jo Dorman and Billy Breen, from competing newspapers that helped break the case. While the roles need more development, the two, played with charm and vitality by Cassie Okenka and Bobby Grouse, could be the thread to provide a coherent structure to the production. This would also allow more of the George Metesky character who is only seen spottily throughout the show.
The second issue that needs to be examined is the tone of the musical. What is the overall objective? Does the musical want to have darker, more cynical overtones? Is it looking to be a more lighthearted, romantic romp (as when Sally Jo and Billy inexplicably go into an entertaining, but baffling tap routine)? The production zigs and zags from one shade to another, incorporating too many styles instead of focusing on one. The one scene I thought worked extremely well, with menacing nuances and dramatic tension, was during the song, “Dear Sir,” where, in a split stage, Sally Jo is composing open letters to the Mad Bomber and reading the responses to her newspaper while on the other side of the stage Metesky composes his rantings and berates his treatment by the publication and the world. If the essence of those moments on stage could be expanded to the whole production, the “Mad Bomber” could become riveting theater. Meaningless characters, pointless scenes and superfluous songs could be excised, replaced with material that would build to a gripping climax.
John Swanson, as George Metesky, gives a world-weary performance, but he comes across as more upset then someone who, at the end of his eventual trial, was declared a paranoid schizophrenic and legally insane. In addition to Cassie Okenka and Bobby Grouse, both who demonstrate wonderful singing voices; Matt Martin’s performance during “The Paris of Naugatuck Valley” is a highlight of the show.
The score by Richard DeRosa and Charles Monagan has some promising numbers but, like the libretto, needs work in crafting songs that better flesh out the characters in the show and more effectively move along the plot of the production.
Director Semina DeLaurentis works well with the material presented to her, but as the leader of the creative team needs, in this case, to function more as an editor, critic and cheerleader to further shape and mold the material; choreographer Janine Molinari needs to bring a consistent and appropriate style to the musical. Is tap and some ballroom dance steps germane to the thrust of the show?
The “Mad Bomber” – a promising premise that needs further development in order to realize its full potential, playing at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT now through June 26th.