There's a lot of art about artists. Most of it about compromise. About boldly never wavering from your artistic vision -- or boldly wavering, having the strength to sell out and succeed. That's the choice in most books, movies, plays-- and whichever way you go, you usually end up pining for the road not taken. Marcy in the Galaxy is a musical about an artist who has neither acclaim nor integrity. She is unsuccessful and unadored. And though we meet her alone, in a diner, on New Year’s Day, this is not a story about how she rises above it all. Nancy Shayne has not written your typical musical about artists. This exercise in self-examination doesn’t end in earth-shattering insight, but with Marcy looking at her life and accepting responsibility for how it’s turned out. It is one of the smallest journeys you’re likely to see in a musical and one of the most courageous.
Through Shayne’s sneakily beautiful songs, we see Marcy shift perspective, taking a fresh look at her family and her “One Room Mansion” (that’s what she calls her Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment). That there’s another side to just about everything is not actually a surprise to Marcy. She’s too smart not to know her reality teeters on the razor’s edge. But on this New Year’s Day, Marcy finally shifts her equilibrium just enough to slice herself open as “the past, the present, and the future converge.” Marcy admits that maybe it’s not her twin sister who froze in place at age twenty-one, maybe her mother doesn’t need to understand her so long as she loves her absolutely, maybe she can still proudly call herself a painter while admitting she makes her money as a typist.
Experiencing a musical on CD is a bit like looking at a lithograph of a famous painting – with the bottom cut off. Just listening to Marcy, you miss the precise direction of Jack Cummings, the gritty diner set with its hopeful, hovering constellations, and Nancy Shayne’s book, which is every bit as funny, sad, and wise as her score. But you also gain something – the ability to hit repeat and listen to lyrics that playfully zig-zag and then painfully zing. Too, the work of the actors is preserved particularly well. Even without the visual, you still register Jonathan Hammond's wry warmth, Jenny Fellner’s clarion charm, Teri Ralston's steely sunniness, the acid brilliance of Mary-Pat Green and Janet Carroll, and the breathtaking range of Donna Lynne Champlin.
“Hang in There,” her eleven o’clock tour-de-force is a woman allowing all her defenses to fall away, allowing herself to be hurt both by her lies and what lies beneath them. It is a savage, surreal experience, and Marcy’s self-cruelty is also the first bit of self-kindness she’s shown in years. If this all sounds messy – it is. It’s also perfectly clear. That’s the hilarious and heart-searing genius of Marcy in the Galaxy.