The travails of a clueless wannabe novelist. The misery of a sullen, disaffected teen. A dad’s erectile dysfunction and the thwarted libido of a helicopter mom.
There is angst galore in “The Tutor,” a small-scale musical of family and literary dysfunction now receiving its mainstage debut at the Village Theatre.
“The Tutor” (which was workshopped at the Village a decade ago) has going for it a stock of brightly entertaining songs composed in a grab bag of musical styles by Andrew Gerle, with quick-witted lyrics by Maryrose Wood.
While scenically modest (by the Village’s standards), the show also prospers, thanks to a superior cast performing under David Ira Goldstein’s deft, spirited direction. Starting with the reliably engaging Eric Ankrim in the title role, the ensemble stirs up the most merriment it can and tries valiantly to balance snark with sincerity.
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But Wood’s book for “The Tutor” can make that difficult. The tone shifts between broad, biting comedy and stock sentiment, as the characters make you laugh, cringe and wonder if you’re supposed to take their cartoonishness seriously.
That’s a tall order with Edmund, the cocky would-be writer toiling away at an ostentatiously bad novel.
As Edmund scribbles old-school (with a pencil, on a legal pad), his characters talk back to him, complaining of the absurd clichés they’re burdened with in a po-mo novel that’s meant to plunder and merge such tomes as “Gone With the Wind” and “The Great Gatsby.”
A writer’s inventions coming to life, and speaking their piece, is a popular meta device used recently in “Ruby Sparks,” among other films. It entertains here by providing an excuse for lively song-and-dance sequences executed by the delightfully versatile Matthew Kacergis and Kirsten deLohr Helland, sporting Kish Finnegan’s cavalcade of costumes.
Ankrim’s arrogantly obtuse Edmund tutors “stupid rich kids” to feed his writing habit. His new pupil, the oddly named and Goth-dressing Sweetie (the young, very gifted Katie Griffith), is one of those alienated, overprivileged, adult-hating adolescents who expresses herself in caustic quips. (Is there any other kind of teenager on stage or screen lately?)
Sweetie, who can’t tell a verb from a noun, becomes Edmund’s unlikely muse and editor, while developing an (innocent) crush on him. Their bond is far-fetched but has some untapped narrative potential.
But “The Tutor” divides our attention between these two and Sweetie’s unhappily wed parents (excellent Beth DeVries and Hugh Hastings), who squabble and vent in such tunes as Hastings’ catchy plaint about sexual inadequacy, “The Little Choo Choo.” (There goes a G rating.)
In Act 2, the mood turns, engendering earnest songs of longing and regret. This soapier, family-therapy mode clashes with the show’s sardonic bite, and its broad caricatures — exemplified by the funny, if off-topic, number in which a vegan lesbian activist (deLohr Holland), tries to convert the runaway Sweetie to vegetarianism by urging her not to “eat your friends.”
In the end, “The Tutor” neatly sands off its sharper edges, repairs rifts and turns even the obnoxious Edmund into sort of a mensch. But a conventionally warm and fuzzy ending doesn’t unite this tunesome show’s split personality.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org