Martin Landry

March 24, 2018 | By

The title of actor-singer-writer Martin Landry’s new show at the Duplex, Screlton McNodes and His Search for Transcendence Through the Act of Putting on Musicals in the Barn with Stray Cats Amidst a Life Full of Pain, Abuse, Murder, and Insanity, may at first glance appear to be the most descriptive title in the history of cabaret. This is odd for a show that is pretty much indescribable. And yet, I shall try.

Imagine, if you will, the offspring of Ed Grimley and Forrest Gump raised by Andy Kaufman and vocally coached by Jonathan & Darlene Edwards with an assist from Dee Snider. If you can do that, then you are at least partially prepared to experience Screlton McNodes. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, with restrictive, abusive parents and a total lack of outside culture or support, was tough on Screlton. He sought solace and salvation in Broadway cast albums, and the potential for escape in producing shows based on them—which he did in his barn, with a cast of stray cats he corralled from the surrounding area. This cabaret show recounts his efforts over the years to perfect Broadway in the Barn and, with it, his life.

The show opens to the strains—and Screlton certainly puts the “strain” in strains—of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Jule Styne, Bob Merrill, from Funny Girl), staking Screlton’s claim to the stage and beginning his assault on our senses. From the start there are multi-vowel sounds never meant for the human ear and wild screeches that would put the heaviest of heavy metal to shame. The litany of show tunes that follows (from Wicked, Oliver!, Joseph…, and many others) provides the body of the show. His between-songs reminiscences are vivid, hilarious, mad, and frightening glimpses into his tragic coming of age. He recounts the difficulty of shaving the cat chosen to star as Daddy Warbucks in Annie, the disastrous attempt to recreate the chandelier in Phantom… with a bucket and wire hangers, and the ill-advised notion of having an actual shotgun on the barricades in Les Misérables.

Throughout, Landry never breaks character. It’s a comedic and eventually dramatic tour de force. His “take no prisoners” commitment to the acting, the singing, and the physicality is remarkable. Screlton’s story, for all its audacity, insanity, and outrage, is actually not that far over the line from everyone’s childhood, filled with dashed dreams, traumatic failures, and unfeeling and sometimes dangerous parents. He just heats things up and lets them boil over into nightmare.

Armando Bravi’s lights underscore the dark delirium on stage. Music director Brandon Lambert, although low key and gentle on the exterior, must have his own bit of madness inside because he is there with the singer through every twist and turn, providing invaluable support. Only a singer in total control of his instrument could sing this badly; it would be easy to undervalue how smart, savvy, and accomplished the vocals are. There were a couple of instances where he strayed too far from the actual melody of a song even for him, but that is my only real reservation.

What makes Landry’s writing and performance even more special is that he does not hesitate to forgo an easy laugh for a more disturbing or emotional moment. There is heart beneath the hilarity, and Martin Landry lets it surface just enough to make the show remarkable. So much for my attempt to describe the indescribable! After all that, there is probably an equally effective one-word description for this show: WOW!

Screlton McNodes and
The Duplex – February 21, March 19

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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