“Director Thomas Caruso wisely capitalizes on the talents of the ensemble, who show off Billy Griffin’s enjoyable choreography with ease…the show’s imaginative and hilarious spirit leaves audiences giggling in almost every scene…this lighthearted look at a charming A-lister’s rise to fame is devilish fun.”
“How the hell did he win an Oscar?” That’s the question that Emilie Landmann’s musical, Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil: An American Myth, attempts to answer. Her response, in the form of an amusing Faustian comedy, proves an entertaining addition to this year’s New York Musical Festival. While Landmann’s book and Jonathan Quesenberry’s score could use some tightening, the show’s imaginative and hilarious spirit leaves audiences giggling in almost every scene.
The musical opens with a sullen Matthew McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) lamenting about his lackluster film career to his devoted agent/friend/dog-walker Penny (Jennifer Blood). They agree to work together on a project that will finally earn McConaughey what both he and rival Leo DiCaprio desperately want: an Academy Award. Enter Mephistopheles (Lesli Margherita), Satan’s demonic press agent, who arrives with a tempting offer: Sign a contract to star in “Texas Buyers Club” and win the Oscar he’s always dreamed of. The catch? Penny can’t read the fine print. Chaos ensues as Matthew struggles to maintain his friendship with fellow pothead Woody Harrelson (Max Crumm) and his loyalty to Penny, whose mounting frustration thrusts her into her own potentially hellish endeavor. In the end, all three must come together to save Matthew’s soul.
An impressive list of Broadway veterans stars in the production, including Wayne Wilcox, Jennifer Blood, Max Crumm, and Lesli Margherita. Wilcox entertainingly portrays a whiny yet ever-likable McConaughey. Blood and Crumm both deliver superb vocal performances. It is Margherita, though, who absolutely shines as Mephistopheles. Even if she utters just a few words in a scene, she leaves the audience howling. Director Thomas Caruso wisely capitalizes on the talents of the ensemble, who show off Billy Griffin’s enjoyable choreography with ease. Ensemble member Riza Takahashi delivers a humorously catty Leo DiCaprio, and Nicole Vande Zande and Cameisha Cotton captivate with some stunning vocal riffs.
The musical’s book, music, and lyrics could benefit from some editing. Although the opening numbers “Alright, Alright, Alright” and “I Could Win an Oscar” sparkle, others like “McConaissance” and “You Do You” are too long and not entirely satisfying. The book features fantastic referential humor à la Something Rotten!, yet some of the jokes don’t land. But in the end, this lighthearted look at a charming A-lister’s rise to fame is devilish fun.”
“Expert direction from Thomas Caruso and knowing dynamic choreography by Billy Griffin. This witty, knowing, hysterical musical deserves a longer life past the New York Musical Festival.”
“Before the show, Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil, you face the underbelly of Hollywood – literally with James Fenton’s back of the famed Hollywood sign – rusted and moldy. This sets the scene perfectly. If you’ve ever wondered how Matthew McConaughey got his start – destined to be an armadillo farmer in Texas – and won an Academy Award – Emilie Landmann (book), Jonathan Quesenberry (Music) and Carrie Morgan (Lyrics) hysterically answer that and more questions for us. With as high a joke ratio as Book of Mormon – this fun show hits all its marks with hysterical lyrics and book that demand repeat viewing given the potential to miss due to audience laugher.
This witty satire posits that McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) sells his soul so he can win an Oscar to Mephistopheles (Lesli Margherita) despite the protests of his grade school friend/agent Penny (Jennifer Blood) and fellow actor/best friend Woody (Max Crumm). After years of lax romantic comedies (most of which are referenced) and being bumped from talk shows for an animal act, the bongo playing, sandal wearing, slacker actor years for serious roles and he’s got just the idea playing a Nazi hating orphan rescuer. The devil has other ideas and scripts – including the Texas Buyer’s Club.
Mining a rich vein for satire is a tough road but thanks to expert performances from Wilcox, Margherita, Blood, Crumm, and the pert, beautifully harmonic chorus – this show scores. The songs cleverly throw in every aspect of McConaughey’s career including his car ads, stoner demeanor, and prior film work. Margherita has a beautiful powerful singing voice, tremendous facials, and vamps hysterically swiping on a phone. Crumm and Blood are great best friends seeking legitimacy on their own terms without selling their souls. Wilcox captures McConaughey’s fierce laconic beat poet/stoner vibe. Cameisha Cotton, Koh Mochizuki, Frankie Shin, Nicole Vande Zande, and Betty Weinberger, Riza Takahashi, round out the cast as the ensemble of vitriolic stars, devilish gospel choir, vengeful “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” and halluncinations in “Weed Ballet.” Takahashi doubles as McConaughey competitor Leo. They are buoyed by expert direction from Thomas Caruso and knowing dynamic choreography by Billy Griffin.
The lyrics and book reference every aspect of stoner Hollywood winking knowingly at McConaughey’s reputation and demeanor. And the cast heartily sinks their teeth into the material ripping into hysterical lines along the lines of respecting the actor’s abs or his work and awkward usage of words (literature-ly). For sheer laughs and fun, Matthew McConaughey Vs The Devil works. Though like many Saturday Night Live sketches – towards the end there’s a bit a flab. But the cast propels you through it – especially the dancing bong, bag of weed, and bongos. Daryl A. Stone’s sharp costumes are a great virtue. Check your brain at the door, have fun. This witty knowing, hysterical musical deserves a longer life past New York Musical Festival.”
“Directed with high energy and laugh-out-loud humor by Thomas Caruso…witty…wacky…entertaining…clever…fun…Under Caruso’s well-tempered direction and pacing, they bring the laughs quickly…”
“Deserving recipient of an Academy Award for Best Actor, or modern-day Faust who sold his soul to capture Hollywood’s biggest honor? Emilie Landmann (book), Carrie Morgan (book and lyrics), and Jonathan Quesenberry (music and lyrics) make a zany case for the latter, in Matthew McConaughey Vs The Devil. The funny new work by the Portland, Oregon-based trio – presented by Everything Rhymes with Blorange in a full-stage premiere at this summer’s New York Musical Festival (NYMF) – is a post-modern parody of the classic German legend and the sometimes surprising nature of success and celebrity that asks the burning question, “How the hell did this guy win an Oscar?”
Directed with high energy and laugh-out-loud humor by Thomas Caruso, the show skewers everything from the inner workings of the Hollywood star system to the religious beliefs on which the tale of Faust is based, in a go-back story that recounts the origins of the eponymous actor (played by Wayne Wilcox), lampoons his reputation as a bongo-playing pot-smoker typecast in mediocre rom-coms, and wildly re-imagines the circumstances that led to the “McConaissance” – his meteoric rise from “that stripper movie” of 2012, to Oscar night 2015. In his desire to “be taken seriously as an actor” and to gain the respect of Leo (Riza Takahashi) and the A-list circle of detractors who consider him “a fucking joke,” Matty sets his sights on winning the coveted award (“I Could Win an Oscar”), with a little help from his BFFs Woody (Max Crumm) and long-time agent Penny (Jennifer Blood), and a whole lot of help from Mephistopheles herself (the terrific Lesli Margherita), in a high-stakes deal with the devil that could lead him straight to hell.
The script is loaded with witty pop-culture references (it helps if you’re familiar with the careers of McConaughey and friends, including his oft-repeated quote “Alright, Alright, Alright,” his ad campaign for the Lincoln Motor Company alluded to in the number “Lincoln Guy,” his dedication to animal rescue, and Woody’s bartending to a few instantly recognizable notes from the theme song of his Emmy Award-winning sit-com) and wacky characterizations that are delivered with comedic control by the cast. Under Caruso’s well-tempered direction and pacing, they bring the laughs quickly, without resorting to over-the-top histrionics or extended milking.
Wilcox transitions from the innate bohemian style and cluelessness of the protagonist – who all too gullibly signs a contract with the devil without first reading it – to a self-important star who all too easily dismisses his old friends, wears shoes (much to Woody’s dismay), and neglects to acknowledge anyone’s help in his red-carpet interview, then reverts back to the same old zoned-out stoner and middling talent (in a subtle and side-splitting scene of bad acting, which is not easy for a good actor to do!), after they convince him to be himself again (“You Do You”) to save his soul. Crumm brings Woody’s love of pot, nerdy need for emotional attachments, and ultimate altruism in the face of repeated rejection to his performance, and Blood shifts from a loyal rep to a “bitch-in-charge” and “boss-ass agent” while performing a riotous rap about “The Finer Things” with Mephistopheles and her female minions.
Margherita, who took home last year’s NYMF award for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role (and should garner another nomination this season), steals the show as Satan’s agent on earth (and send-up of all pushy agents in the entertainment industry), with her powerhouse vocals, seductive moves, tough-talking attitude, and priceless facial expressions, each timed to perfection. Cameisha Cotton, Koh Mochizuki, Frankie Shin, Nicole Vande Zande, and Betty Weinberger, along with Takahashi, round out the cast as the ensemble of vitriolic stars, devilish gospel choir, vengeful “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past,” and performers in a drug-induced “Weed Ballet.” Billy Griffin provides the dynamic choreography and Kristin Stowell the musical direction (in addition to conducting the live five-piece band and performing on keyboard) for the amusing array of songs and dances. While not all of the individual vocals hit the mark, the group numbers are generally harmonious and entertaining.
A clever set design by James Fenton places us behind-the-scenes of the famous Hollywood sign, with the letters seen from behind. A simple rectangular box easily converts with the flip of a cloth from the bar of the Oscar after-party (one of the show’s funniest segments, featuring Mephistopheles becoming increasingly intoxicated) to the high altar of the church in which McConaughey prays for the salvation of his soul (while singing through “The Five Stages of Grief”). Zach Blane’s lighting design employs flashlights for scenes on the dark side and a flaming red backdrop for the inferno of hell, and costumes by Daryl Stone visually define the personalities of the celebrities (in trendy black attire), demons (in hot red), and stoners (in unkempt everyday streetwear).
Although the Faustian story of Matthew McConaughey Vs The Devil pits friendship, love, and loyalty against greed, control, and unkindness, in the end it is less a morality play and more a lively hour-and-a-half of contemporary musical satire that keeps the audience laughing and nodding at the familiar behavior. It’s a lot of fun.”