The Virtuous Life of Joseph Andrews

I had four reasons to see this show, but I’ll give you the only one you need.

By Andrew Andrews

Steven Telsey as the title character in Cary Gitter, Max Silverman and Joe Brancato’s The Virtuous Life of Joseph Andrews, directed by Brancato for Penguin Rep Theatre. Original photos by John Quilty.

We’re back in the 1700s, and Joseph Andrews is a poor but very virtuous young man in service to a wealthy old dude—and to his lustful wife, Lady Booby.

Joseph would love to marry Fanny, another servant. But first, Lady Booby insists on taking “Joey” to London with her—alone—leaving Fanny behind in the English countryside.

Can Joseph manage to save his virginity for Fanny, despite Lady Booby’s advances? Or will Booby abuse her power to get what she wants from the strapping young lad before their return?

There’s only one way to find out…

The cast consists of Maya Musial, Josh Powell, Jonathan Randell Silver, Liz Zazzi, and Steven Telsey, with Christopher & Justin Swader, Alyssa Ridder, Isabella Dixon, Jamie Roderick, Max Silverman, Buffy Cardoza and Bobbie Zlotnik on the creative team.

I had three questions—no, make that four—that I needed to answer by attending this show:

  1. As long time readers might remember, playwright Cary Gitter was a frequent contributor to Rule of 7x7 (a regular series of one-act plays that was one of our favorite events in Manhattan before the pandemic), always shining as both a writer and an actor. So how would his familiar “comic shorts” style translate to a full-length production?

  2. This offering is subtitled A Comedy With Music. Why qualify it so carefully, instead of just calling it a musical comedy or a comedic musical?

  3. Penguin Rep’s recent production of Mr. Parker in Manhattan was absolutely wonderful; would they—could they—surpass it?

  4. Joseph Andrews, huh? I wonder: are we somehow related?

First things first: if you’ve ever been to Rule of 7x7, you know that most of the one-act plays in each show bear a striking resemblance to skits on a sketch comedy show, along the lines of Saturday Night Live. Even though this production runs about 80 minutes, it, too, feels like a skit. Of course it is more elaborate, with a gorgeous set that contrasts a rustic plank stage before a formal, mansion-like backdrop, serving as the setting for everything from a country barn to a city apartment.

Just as a sketch show doesn’t have time for full-blown musical numbers, the music in this show amounts to a generous peppering of short, comical ditties; the one called “It’s Never Too Late” is my favorite (“It’s never too late/To consummate/And pollinate/And penetrate”). Although the songs might be too brief to allow anyone in the cast to truly show off their singing skills, it’s apparent from the short bursts of lyrics that everyone’s voice is as golden as the lead character’s is purported to be.

Mr. Parker is a very different type of performance than Joseph Andrews, so it doesn’t make much sense to compare the two productions. As my ratings attest, I enjoyed both experiences, but whereas the former tugs at your heartstrings, the latter is more of a walk in the park. If you’re looking for a lighthearted romp through Georgian era England, this is your show.

Last but not least: although Joseph Andrews may have been quite virtuous, it seems he was also very fictional. While I did notice some rather personal similarities between his life story and my own, I would be quite amazed to find that he really existed, and even more surprised to learn that we’re related!

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Andrew Andrews attended The Virtuous Life of Joseph Andrews at Penguin Rep Theatre in Stony Point on Saturday, August 13, 2022 @ 4:00pm to write this review.