by Josh Sherman · August 16, 2014
One of the enormous pleasures of attending a few different shows each year at the New York International Fringe Festival is that I am always surprised at the diversity of the projects and the fearless risk-taking of the participants. Jump Man, the musical-ish experiment created from the feverish mind of Samuel Isadore, has taken things one step farther by attempting to jam at least a dozen different styles of theater into one sitting. Predictably, it is an incredibly streaky proposition and to my eye, each individual scene is an exercise in figuring out if this low-brow show is either brilliant or a dud. But hey, if you want ten shows in one place, Jump Man has you covered.
Did I mention that Jump Man is based on the Super Mario Brothers characters? Did I mention that it literally features ALL of them – so we got Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Bowser, Yoshi, a cameo from Wario, and henchman/villians that look like Goombas? The show begins with a retired-from-saving-World 8-4 Mario (Jeff Essex, who’s better than this) going back to his plumbing business with Luigi (a game Benny Oyama) and Toad (a funny Luke Schwartz) in Brooklyn. He’s married Peach (Rachel Oyama), who is inexplicably employed as the Secretary of State. There’s a kidnapping crime wave in the neighborhood, and a wholly misguided rap number “Street Knowledge” fails to advance the plot forward as to why Mario should come out of his self-imposed hero exile and fulfill his destiny. Also, the gentrification of Brooklyn is under the microscope in the personage of real estate magnate Jarles Jarwin (Alexa Green) who is trying to buy the building where Mario Bros. Plumbing operates, but Mario won’t-a sell.
The consensus amongst the citizens of this Brooklyn micro-nabe is that Bowser (Erik DeCicco) is still alive and the ringleader behind it all, and that our princess is in another castle. The script wastes the first half of the show with the will-Mario-won’t-Mario ‘drama’, but inventively tries to make up for it with a twist that actually works well – Bowser is not the true villain and makes up with Team Mario during the number “Bowser’s Reflection” which DeCicco performs admirably and with gusto. Mario gets set up by a sneaky Goomba on behalf of the true bad guys and sent to an asylum upstate after being arrested by the only British police officer working in Brooklyn. Luigi and company break him out, evil is confronted, the day is saved, the pipes to other worlds/dimensions are protected and the president shows up to thank them (reminder, Secretary of State Peach).
Director Myla Pitt is all over the map with this show, and every scene is managed in the micro seemingly without any regard for the macro of the piece as a whole. I felt like I needed a shoulder harness and seat belt as we get whipped around for two hours without intermission. That is not to say that there are not individual moments of joy within – for example, there are plenty of great 8-bit sound effects to give nerdy, videogame nostalgia addicts (like myself) some cheap thrills. Mario’s ‘Hamlet’s ghost’ scenes with Yoshi are a real hoot, Green (as Jarwin) belts the heck out her one number “Personal Hell”, and DeCicco’s take on Bowser is very funny. But the score can’t make up its mind any more than the show can – the call & response number from Mario “The Lesson” literally comes out of nowhere and is unconnected from the rest of this musical. The fight choreography for our action hero Mario was nearly nonexistent, and poorly executed when employed. And there is simply no reason for at least four of the chorus roles to even exist.
Isadore is throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing what sticks, which is fine if the project is still in a rehearsal period. At this point of its development, Jump Man is a series of sketches that either soar or crash, kept together loosely under the heading of “Video Game Musical” that the creators hope will work out of affection for the characters that we have known and loved for decades now. It made me wish I could climb into a big green pipe, and choose only the worlds that I wanted to play in, and ignore the ones that made me want to hit the reset button.