by Ron Cohen · August 16, 2015
Ben Rauch | Anthony Velez
The talent on display in Single Room Occupancy is bountiful, and it made this musical comedy a happy start to my viewings at this year’s NY International Fringe Festival. Much of that talent belongs to Ben Rauch, the winningly impish-looking fellow who wrote the show’s book and music and collaborated on the lyrics (with Gaby Gold and Rory Scholl). Rauch, on occasion, also plays one of the band’s two keyboards. And, oh yes, he portrays with great aplomb the leading role: a young fellow named Matthew who writes songs for an improvisational sketch group called The Pull-Out Method.
As Matthew tells us, he has written “250 original songs” since middle school and he hopes this his music will eventually be his ticket out of his tiny apartment in Secaucus, New Jersey,. But Matthew’s career angst is not at the center of the show. Rather it’s his bumpy love life, which mainly bounces between Rachel, a ditzy and severely judgmental blonde, and Kim, an early school-days crush. Kim also happens to be the sister of MC Sumo, Matthew’s Asian pal and one of three people who make up the improv group.
I won‘t spoil things by telling you who winds up with Matthew in the final clinch, but I‘m pretty sure you‘ll know within the first ten minutes. As you might gather, the story is totally inconsequential.
However, it serves well as a framework for some 15 musical numbers, most of them in a chirpy light pop rock style, with lyrics that sometimes gleefully zero in on such contemporary concerns as wheat gluten allergy and internet dating. There are also some tuneful ballads, and thankfully, there were only a few occasions when I felt the performers were straining to tear off the roof of the theater, which seems to be an all too common occurrence in Broadway musicals these days.
The whole affair, smartly directed by Joey Murray, is deliciously light-hearted and high-spirited. The seven cast members cast generate an infectious “we’re having a party” spirit. In addition to Rauch, they are Diane Kay, playing Kim; Kat Liz Kramer, whose emphatic dancing is a highlight; Cali Elizabeth Moore, as Rachel; and Lane Kwederis, Jay Paranada and the aforementioned Scholl as members of the improv group. They all imbue their characters with distinct personalities that help give the rather vacuous happenings of the narrative a bit more heft. Some of them take on multiple roles quite effectively.
Another asset is Jebbel Arce’s ample choreography, which keeps the musical numbers vibrating in a state of near perpetual motion. And the party atmosphere even emanates from the four-member band (plus Rauch), where the irrepressible joy of the musical director Noriko Sunamoto, playing away at a keyboard, was almost a show in itself.