The Grass Is Bluer

Is this Twain's world we're pondering or just a hillbilly panderfest?

Anthony and O'Neil: The music gets the standing O's.
Anthony and O'Neil: The music gets the standing O's.

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A Murder, a Mystery & a Marriage Book and lyrics by Aaron Posner; music by James Sugg. With Eric Scott Anthony, Richard Henzel, Dan Leonard, Bruce Linser, David M. Luken, Kiera O'Neil, Lourelene Snedeker, Tom Kenaston, Gary Mackey, and Rupert Ziawinski. Presented through January 13 at Florida Stage, Plaza del Mar Shopping Center, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. Call 800-514-3837, or visit www.floridastage.com.

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M3 is a welterweight tale to begin with and probably doesn't need the increased sillification that is doomed to come with any musical adaptation of a nonmusical piece. Still, I suspect it's the music that earned all those standing O's. A prairie drag queen on piano, a cute (cute!) little pickup band on fiddle and bass, two guitar players among the cast's principals, and a cast full of singers ranging from good (Dan Leonard) to glorious (O'Neil) wrap their chops around some beautiful, down-homey numbers by James Sugg that really do suggest a concert rather than a musical (and hearing O'Neil's Broadway-belter voice pulling high-lonesome harmonies is a pleasure music people shouldn't miss, though it won't justify the tix for theater folks). The last of those numbers, "God's World," is a lovely benediction that almost makes you forgive the show all its useless dumbness. And then, through the happy haze brought on by good (blue)grass, you remember distantly that theater is supposed to teach you something or move you or surprise you, and you start feeling cheated all over again. And then you think about Twain, who said "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand" and remember all that chuckling and figure it's all good. And then you think, shit, would Twain have laughed at this? Or approve of a song called "God's World"? And then you figure that Twain also said "The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all," and you think about those standing O's, and at some point, you'll probably make up your own damned mind.

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