This is Tom Jones! is a rollicking, energizing, gift of a new musical based on an old beloved classic, playing now through September 24 at Human Race Theatre.
Books, lyrics and Music by Mark Brown and Music by Paul Mirkovich, This is Tom Jones! premiered September 8, 2023 in Dayton. The show features some memorable songs, strong performances, and enough double entendre to keep audiences giggling throughout.
The story is based on the 1749 Henry Fielding novel, Tom Jones, which has previously been turned into operas, films and musicals. Tom, a foundling, is taken in as a baby by the good Squire Allworthy and raised as a gentleman, to the displeasure of his cousin, Bliful. Tom is full of life and love–and ready to spread that around—hence one of the reasons why the 1963 film Tom Jones starring Albert Finney, was so successful. It epitomizes the zeitgeist of the era. This show also has plenty of nods to Tom Jones the Welsh singer, who rose to fame in the 60s as an overtly sexual performer.
This is a 2-hour version of the novel, that mixes 1960’s era music and dance, and captures some of that zaniness that the 1963 film version also captures–direct address to the audience, sexuality, a lot of humor and hijinks.
Far Out Performances
The casting of Kyle Mangold and Melinda Porto is brilliant. Mangold is the uber confident but naughty boychild that can melt your heart–and your panties. Porto’s beautiful voice and modern sensibilities make this a perfect pairing. Porto is Sophie, Tom’s neighbor. While they declare their love for each other, plans are made for Sophie to marry Bliful, who will legitimately inherit the estate.
Patrick Earl Phillips energizes the audience as the narrator and sets the mood and energy level at a 10. Intermission buzz was all about Phillips and Sara Mackie. The audience ate up Mackie’s masterful characterizations as Allworthy’s sister, the Doctor, and more.
To clarify–all of the performers (save Mangold) play multiple characters. With clever costuming you know who the character is supposed to be, yet you see the actor. The running gag of Kelly Mengelkoch’s maids Jane, Honour and Cecilia is quite clever. Jamie Cordes (mostly Sophie’s father), Edwin Large (mostly Allworthy), Eb Madson (mostly Bliful), Aleah Vassell (mostly Jenny Jones) do a wonderful job with their multiple roles. (Madson is the villain you love to hate.)
Groovy Creative Team
Director Emily Wells keeps the pace fast and light, balancing and timing so many entrances and exits in the vast stage space. Musical Director Steve Goers leads the onstage musicians and guides all the wonderful voices, uplifting the 60s inspired tunes.
The most memorable number is “Fox Hunting” both for the catchy tune and the tongue-in-cheek staging. Mangold and Porto do a lovely job in “The One.” “I Wanna Go Home” powerfully opens Act Two. Porto stands her ground in “Digging a Hole.” “Someone Knocking at My Door” is a fast-paced farcical turn that the team times perfectly.
Choreographer Debbie Blunden-Diggs digs into her collection of 60’s dance steps–look for the frug, the mashed potato, and way more.
The only weak spot is the sound–all actors’ mics could be up at least ½ a level–and turn on faster as we miss the first few words of most songs. The live band is at the right level, playing well and playing along with the cast.
The set is vibrant–prominent doors predict the Act Two mistaken identities and farcical situations. The wallpaper is mid-century at its finest. The lighting is colorful washes, but there are opportunities to do more to focus on the actor, emotion, and song, subduing the loud set for a bit. Janet G. Powell’s clothing is fun and fitting, and easy to take on and off quickly. Which they do a lot.
Bottom Line and Tickets to This is Tom Jones!
This is Tom Jones! is a far out, smashing time. Brown’s new musical should spread like wildfire across the country, with it’s feel-good message, accessible lyrics, and continuous laughs.
Get your tickets for this smashing show at the DaytonLive Box office by calling 937-228-3630 or online HERE.