Reviewed By Jara Jones
After the lineage of the British Royal Family succumb to a tragic end, the UK begin a feverish search to find a lasting heir. They stumble upon a brash-talking American with a flair for the dramatic and a gift for song. Later, our plucky protagonist meets a rival from the English elite who scorns their unconventional ways and then begins a covert plan to incriminate the new monarch. After being assailed by the tabloids for their public blunders and romantic scandal, the newly crowned sovereign struggles with the lasting implications of their unexpected title. Finally, peace is restored when Our Majesty reveals the felonious acts of their enemies and then abdicates the throne, leaving the wise and unflappable helpmeet (who has a tidy, clandestine affiliation to royalty) to assume the position.
This summary above is word for word and beat for beat the plot of the 1991 John Goodman film King Ralph. God Save Queen Pam copies it to the letter, re-imagining the fish-out-of-water comedy as a mad-cap, exaggerated, one dimensional tale resembling a Christmas panto. Buckingham Palace represented with a bed more akin to a freshman twin mattress and characters clad with the merest attempt to distinguishing class and bearing (an Archbishop denoted by a simple purple pageantry sash, for example.) I really wish they had committed to the full tropes of British pantomime (how much more delightfully silly and engaging would it have been to have had the lead be a woman dressed as a boy, to be coerced by the cast to cheer the hero and boo their nemesis) Instead, the musical finds itself at odds between making slim gestures towards more detailed characterization versus being jam-packed with sloppy camp.
Erin Murray Quinlan (the show’s lead, and creator of the its book, music, and lyrics) clearly has done her research as far as depicting the day to day struggles of a Queen. Even her character names show an apt wit and further potential for greater comedy. For example, Pam’s staunchest foe is named Fenella de Dieul (an unsteady performance by Mari Minette Linder, who seeks to straddle the line between broad and naturalistic and accomplishes neither) , which translates to “introverted, cerebral, and easily anxious” and “of God” respectively. All that detail is squandered with a slap-dash script which favors stale pop culture references and quick, easy jokes. Fenella, rather than putting up a pious, genteel front, broadcasts her villainy without an attempt to hide her vainglorious ambition.
The highlights of the musical are Carolyn Light as Col. Eleanor Ainsley (captivating and fully realized in her role) and the scenes between Pam and her not-so-subtle crush, Maj. Jaimie Toben (David Ventura in a disarmingly charming, vulnerable performance). Not the painfully broad moments when she tosses pick-up lines at him with frenzied desperation like a barfly ten minutes away from closing time; the rare opportunities where Quinlan as a playwright, composer, librettist, and actor allows herself to deliver honest, unguarded moments. See this show for the number “Once for Yes” alone, a sincere, utter delight of a song which feels so out of place amongst the slapstick.
Future productions of this musical must consider the following question: does the heart of the story reside in fleshed out, earned humor and characters whose personality consists of far more than a hard-on for Winston Churchill? Or, should the musical run gleefully headlong into precise, flamboyant, stylized camp, removing or altering its more mannered characters (like Ainsley and Toben) as well as more stoic songs “Think of England” and “The Shamrock, the Thistle, and the Rose”. Either choice could produce a wonderful show.
God Save Queen Pam is produced by Tawnydog Productions and runs until July 29, 2018 at The Players Theatre (115 MacDougal St.)