Bastard Jones, produced off-Broadway by the cell, is a musical adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Fielding’s title character, of course, is a good-natured libertine, the sex addict who falls in love with the nice girl, Sophia. The plot, which is convoluted even in this pared-down adaptation, is of no particular importance. It just concerns Tom’s sexual adventures. He’s banished and nearly executed for his ill-considered lifestyle. At the end, of course, he wins the virtuous Sophia. The novel was such a scandal that the Bishop of London claimed that its publication caused the Great earthquake of 1850.
The lengthy novel has been trimmed to accommodate a cast of nine, with most actors playing multiple roles. The title role is played by Evan Ruggiero, who is an amputee. He performs wearing a wooden prosthetic leg which he puts on during the first scene. The show is in no way apologetic about the prosthetic. At one point a character makes a joke of it, using it as a mike. It’s great to see disability treated with such unabashed frankness.
Indeed, the premise of the production is difference. The cast is racially inclusive and one actress is legally blind (although we’d never know that by watching her performance).
The show is delightful, thanks mostly to the talents of its director and cast. The book is merely solid and the songs – mostly in the pop vein – are pleasant if unmemorable. Director Marc Acito keeps it all zipping along allegro. He works on a small stage with a balcony, but he keeps the tone of a full-bodied musical, with meticulous joyousness.
This is an honest sex farce that makes its point through its flippancy. To quote from the script: “The world would be a better place if the keepers of morality kept it to themselves.”
In the title role, Mr. Ruggiero’s performance is very good, standard musical theater; he’s limited by a role that’s not well developed for a lead. Elena Wang is absolutely terrific as the virtuous Sophia. She gives the character complexity, and when she sings she raises her arms up to her shoulders without looking ridiculous. Rene Ruiz plays Tom’s companion as well as the show’s narrator, and his work is great from the moment he opens with “Greetings!” Crystal Lucas-Perry is marvelous as the aristocrat who keeps Tom as her concubine. The other cast members are no less pleasing.
Bastard Jones is obscene without being vulgar, two-and-a-half hours of great fun. The book is by Marc Acito, the music is by Amy Engelhardt, and they collaborated on the lyrics. Their characters need to be further developed, given contradictions and complexity, without lengthening the show. But the production is nonetheless a success. What’s more, its proceeds benefit Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, which serves homeless LGBT youth. Good for the cell!