The Laughs Will Go On

therapy-celineChristana Cataldo plays a hilarious personal catastrophe caught in the headlights of unrequited love, looking for laughs in all the right places. Exploiting the music of Celine Dion for its comic value, this one-woman show made its one night appearance in the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) this past Tuesday night to a sold out house, and if there’s any prophecy in audience reaction, you hopefully will get another chance to see In Therapy with Celine some time in the very near future. Serving up drug, food, and alcohol abuse with a side of stalking, this fast-paced cabaret piece will appeal to both Dion fans and haters alike. For those who love the work of the chest-beating diva, Cataldo covers with conviction, finding a deep emotional connection with the material, while at the same time unabashedly laying on a heavy dose of camp that would be difficult for anyone not to find amusing. Her vocals are powerful and full of feeling, but never get in the way of her spot-on comic timing. Cataldo has the kind of undeniable presence that not only lends itself well to cabaret, but would be a welcomed boost to the Broadway stage, which has been sorely short in character for the past decade or two. She is wonderfully free with her facial expressions and body gestures, while at the same time well-controlled and precise, with an overall relaxed execution that coolly conceals the hard-working actress that must be sweating beneath the surface. Director/writer Evan Storey seems to have met a perfect match in Cataldo, providing her with the kind of well-placed parameters that set a performer free to bring a piece to life. Storey’s framework is simple and functional, placing Celine (Cataldo) in a therapy session where she can relate the history of her many failed attempts at romance, bouncing from monologue to song, while opening up to the audience, which functions as the silent psychiatrist. Storey’s writing is darkly funny and does well with hitting its marks and moving on before anything gets old. He tucks in some cleverly understated humorous lines, which are well complemented by Cataldo’s sly subtleties and quick deliveries. In short, one can only assume that this will not be the last collaboration between Storey and Cataldo. Jeff Cubeta accompanies on piano, occasionally providing a convenient straight man for Cataldo to play off of. Cubeta is also responsible for the arrangements, which are well adapted to the off-beat mood of the parody. There are a few numbers that would benefit from being a little shorter, focusing more on the funny, but for the most part, the balance between the songs and the jokes make for perfect harmony. Producers Jennifer Isaacson and Amanda Taylor can be thanked for helping to bring this comic gem to NYMF. Both have impressive track records, having worked on such noteworthy Broadway productions as The Norman Conquests and The 39 Steps, and have once again attached themselves to a winner with In Therapy with Celine. It's productions such as this that demonstrate why festivals such as NYMF are so crucial, providing a forum for the exposure of voices that we can hope will keep tomorrow’s theater alive. - C. Jefferson Thom cj_thomMr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.