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Behind the music

THEATER: 'MoM: A Rock Concert Musical' 

Behind the music

"MoM: A Rock Concert Musical" is the second and final show in Geva's summer 2013 season. Along with the previous show, "Big Pants & Botox," it's fairly light, female-leaning fare. (Geva did have a more serious piece, a Robert Forster-starring Ronald Reagan play, initially on the summer schedule, but it was cancelled.) The thing about "MoM" is that it is fascinatingly, sometimes infuriatingly, inconsistent. At times, the show rises above the accessible concept with some surprisingly moving sequences courtesy of five talented performers. And there are times when it is so cheesy that I literally cringed in my seat.

"MoM" was written and directed by Richard Caliban, and was an award-winning production at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival. The show tells the story of a quintet of mothers who set aside stereotypical suburban life to live out their put-on-pause dreams of musical stardom. The structure is that of a reunion concert in which the members of the band, also called MoM, tell their stories through song while acting out what happened. The conceit works only as long as you don't think about it. How many rock concerts have you attended that include dramatic reenactments of band fights or awkward discussions with surly children?

The five performers in the show are all actors with musical backgrounds or musicians exploring acting. That's essential, because they play their own instruments throughout the show — some of them play several — in addition to singing and acting.

The music in "MoM" is original, and several of the songs are legitimately catchy pop-rock tunes. But stylistically it's all over the place, with ventures into jazz, country, and even Latin sounds.

That broad reach is the show's biggest flaw, and it extends beyond the unrealistic musical mix. Caliban's writing can sometimes be quite witty and insightful, but on multiple occasions it descends into, frankly, pandering. A song called "Moms in Thongs" automatically sets the bar pretty low. Then the women on stage literally pulled cotton panties out of their pants and threw them into the audience. That kind of clumsy obviousness also manifested in some of the directing. Did the bored, rich housewife singing the vapid song "Lady of Leisure" really need to be swanning about the stage holding an empty plastic martini glass to underscore the point of the song? It suggests a lack of faith in the audience, or creative over-indulgence.

The cast executes the material's peaks and valleys with more consistency. All of them are clearly talented — some are stronger musically than they are at the acting, others the opposite — but there are a few standouts. Bekka Lindstrom is magnetic as Melissa, the most believable character in the group. She comes across as a mix of Uma Thurman and Talking Heads' David Byrne, and she comes alive as she attacks the songs with her low, character-filled voice. She's also a skilled, natural actor. I wanted to see more from her. (The show is split up fairly evenly between the five performers.)

Stefanie Seskin is a classically trained flutist — she also plays bass and sax in the show — and has the most satisfying arc in the show as Catalina. Her transformation from buttoned-up prude to totally unbuttoned rock diva is one of the most engaging parts of the program, and Seskin is believable every step of the way. Early in the show Seskin was flustered, trying to pick out notes and cursing herself as she missed lyrics. Later she strutted about the stage and purred out her song, "You Can't Fuck 'Em All." That sounds like a challenge, as well as a great, crowd-pleasing anthem.

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