By JOHN DeMERS
Within the first 10 minutes of TUTS Underground’s Waiting for Johnny Depp, Brooke Wilson will have you believing there are few theater professionals on earth who can play this single character as well as she can. Currently enjoying its world premiere, the one-woman musical requires a kind of distaff Robin Williams, ever-ready to pursue a bizarre thought that’s communicated by yet another voice in her head. Houston audiences who’ve known Brook Wilson’s work all over everywhere for years would no doubt think only of her after reading snippets from this script.
Midway through the second act, however, it’s unclear who could make the role as written come alive, caught up as it is in misery overkill. Each individual misery is compelling, not least because each is something that happens to real people. And all these bad things certainly happen, in particular, to women (and men) seeking a career acting in New York City. But the stretches of misery become too intense after a bit, and definitely go on too long. In so doing, they deny us Wilson’s most remarkable skill sets – evocative singing, impressive dancing and comic timing that’s as good as it gets.
Waiting for Johnny Depp – with book, lyrics and music primarily by actor and singer/songwriter DeeDee O’Malley, has much to recommend it, even beyond Wilson’s performance, even here and now. It tells the story of an actress known as Rita Donatella (she actually has bunches of New York-y names, bouncing between Italian and Jewish) who is, unlikely as this seems, up for a major role in the latest Johnny Depp film. In the process of “doing anything” for her craft (yes, it’s a song), she balances roller-coaster phone updates from her agent with ever-nagging calls from her mother with halfhearted efforts to schedule coffee with her beloved older brother. She also carries on a shortlived romance with a never-seen man who seems too perfect and also with Craigslist, selling everything in her apartment to make ends meet while she’s waiting. And waiting…
The production by TUTS Underground, the funkier and edgier outreach of neither funky nor edgy Theatre Under The Stars, is solid, from the set and lighting by Matthew Schlief to the versatile on-and-off costumes by Colleen Grady to the sound by Andrew Harper. Jack Beetle keeps the music, including many fun songs laced with adult language, lively from his visible piano at the side of the stage.
There is absolutely no way Wilson could do a better job with this material, and she makes O’Malley’s flighty and rather irresponsible character as lovable as anyone doing this show ever will. We’re made to care about Rita, even as we view her life choices in disbelief. As Waiting for Johnny Depp moves forward from its world premiere, probably with lesser talents than Brooke Wilson in the spotlight, we hope its authors will find ways to shorten the misery of Act II so that the script’s final, flimsy “depp ex machine” will be welcomed with delight rather than mere relief.
Photo: Brooke Wilson by Christian Brown