Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, British comedians par excellence, used to do very funny skits of pop songs and TV shows. One of these, The House of Idiot, parodied The House of Eliott, a BBC drama from the 1990s set in a 1920s fashion house run by two sisters. French and Saunders brilliantly poked fun at all the absurdities of that show, with a recurring joke about a storyline that involved… missing buttons. Buttons, buttons, buttons. Where were they?
And it was to The House of Idiot’s buttons this critic’s mind returned during Only Gold (MCC Theater, through Nov. 27), a new musical-with-dance set in 1920s Paris with music and lyrics by singer-songwriter Kate Nash, who also stalks around the stage narrating events. The book is by Ted Malawer and Andy Blankenbuehler, the multi-award winning choreographer—including the Tony for Hamilton—who also choreographs and directs the show. Instead of buttons, there is a necklace—and just as in The House of Eliott/Idiot, the saga of the necklace, the mentioning of the necklace, the everything of the necklace, is endless.
The original necklace is a lost item of cherished lineage—a gift from gruff King Belenus (Terrence Mann) to his wife Queen Roksana (Karine Plantadit) many years before in Paris. Since then the business of running a country called Cosimo (great name for a fictional country, but sounds confusingly like Kosovo!), living in a palace, wearing fabulous clothes (the show’s gorgeous costumes are by Anita Yavich), and generally being rich, have mysteriously taken a toll on the couple. Most of the show involves them grouching at each other for no fundamentally major reason, while a replacement necklace is being prepared by jeweler/designer Henri (Ryan Vandenboom).
Henri seems like a nice guy, until inexplicably he becomes a sexist asshole, insisting his piano-loving wife Camille (Hannah Cruz) ceases her artistic pursuits to be the kind of partner that befits the finest necklace maker in all of Paris. The story takes occasional detours into Camille’s half-heartedly drawn personal liberation narrative.
While the necklace is being prepared—seriously, enough with the necklace!—a B-storyline involves their daughter Princess Tooba (Gaby Diaz), who is being lined up to marry a Count (Tyler Hanes), who is effeminate—ooo what a villain he must be!—when she just wants to…
Actually, what does Princess Tooba want? She is less princess-heroine and more a sulky, entitled brat, who, rather like her mother and father, you don’t sympathize or empathize with because she’s rich and just fine. Clocks keep being wheeled across the stage to count down the family’s time in Paris, and the passing of time itself, which the musical is portentously preoccupied with. You may also find yourself preoccupied with the same thing, though for different reasons.
Anyway, romance fans, fear not; Jacques (Ryan Steele), a hot muscular guy who works for the posh hotel the family stays in, likes books and is sensitive, and wears a very not-1920s looking tank-top… but maybe this is a 1920s with Equinox memberships… anyway, he, clearly suffering from an unstated psychological ailment, likes Tooba.
Only Gold circles these dull romantic stories repetitively, especially the necklace-of-no-return. The songs are fine, and Nash smoothly speak-sings her contributions as she sleekly orbits the characters around her. But there’s no real tension or charm to Only Gold. As with so many shows, its ensemble should be thanked a million times over for doing so much work with flashy, stunning dance routines, which become more vital than intended given how wan the story and music are. Still, we can only hope a sequel might be set in Cosimo.