“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.”