Hollywood Fringe 2017
Noted Scientology rebel gets her story told through song.
Leah Remini has come out to be one of Hollywood’s most outspoken critics of Scientology. The organization relies on its Hollywood elite members to help spread the gospel according to L. Ron Hubbard.
We see the title character turn from spunky young indoctrinee to Scientology aristocracy, to cult refugee, but never once during the often wacky and comic ordeal does she ever shy away from speaking her mind.
Leslie Rubino does a great job playing Remini as she skeptically meanders through different echelons of the church, trying to remain true to herself in a system that makes being true to yourself difficult. If anyone wants to cast Rubino as Rizzo in “Grease,” I tell you now, she’ll do you right. Along the way, she gets pep talks from her concerned mother (Libby Baker), encouragement from her only real friend in the church Shelley Miscavige (Tiffani Ann Mills), and some absolutely wild tales, in a very funny musical number (“Matter, Energy, Space, and Time”) full of spectacle and confetti, about the origin stories of Scientology from a David Miscavige (Milo Shearer) whose ocean liner captain’s hat gives him the aura of David Lee Roth, and a tall, very bearded Tom Cruise (Daved Wilkins) (but let’s be honest; is the story of Xenu any nuttier than the story of Noah’s Arc?).
Robert Hill’s songs are catchy and well-constructed, giant group numbers with deft singing from the entire cast dominate, but there is also a simple guitar ballad for a charming Katie Holmes (Jaimie Day) who sings her wedding invitations in “Katie & Tom” and sadly, doesn’t get to talk much for the rest of the show. While the opening and closing numbers, “Girls on TV” and “Clear” eschew comedy for genuine heart, all the numbers in the middle go for laughs with great success, particularly early on with “On a Boat,” which places the show in good company of other fun musicals about sailors like “On The Town” and “Anything Goes.”
Director Jeffrey McCrann, who also wrote the script, keeps the show moving at a brisk pace and offers plenty of theatrical visuals to make the scenes and the songs come to life. The entire supporting cast, which also includes Nicole Clemetson as Remini’s more famous pal Jennifer Lopez and Sohm Kapila as the plucky spirit of another ex-Scientologist Nicole Kidman, each get their moment to shine solo, but really the show is at its best when the cast comes together to sing their hearts out as a group.
It would be wrong to assume this is just a show about the perils of joining Scientology and then trying to leave (though there is plenty of that) as it’s even more a show about thinking for yourself and breaking out of conformity which is what makes the story ever more relatable. When the show ended, it felt like it was only the end of the second act and Remini would come back in act three to finish the story. But I suppose the show ends where it does because Remini’s real-life third act has yet to fully materialize. ZACHARY BERNSTEIN