Associated Press Review

By JENNIFER FARRAR Associated Press NEW YORK May 19, 2011 (AP)

"The Sphinx Winx" is billed as a "musical-comedy misinterpretation of ancient Egyptian history" and the campy, light-hearted production, which opened Wednesday night off-Broadway at Theatre Row, features broadly comical characterizations of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

Ryan Williams energetically portrays a wacky Soothsayer working for Cleo, as Cleopatra is known here. His tongue-in-cheek theme song, "Always Get It Right," belies his mistaken prediction to his mistress that Marc Antony will fall in love with her.

The role of Cleo is handled with wry aplomb by Erika Amato. Bruce Sabath plays Caesar as a likable, henpecked spendthrift, a bit past his prime, as is Cleo, though both are loathe to admit it.

The historically inaccurate plot, which does involve a winking sphinx, plus a kidnapping in a sarcophagus, also includes a beautiful slave named Crecia (Rebecca Riker, who sings beautifully), and Caesar's jealous, delusional and very tone-deaf daughter, Lunia (a sassy portrayal by Beth Cheryl Tarnow).

Bret Shuford is all handsome, upright manliness as Marc Antony, who soon falls in love with Crecia, baffling both Cleo and Lunia. Nearly all the cast members perform two or three roles, whisking on and offstage to change personas.

Book and lyrics are by Philip Capice, Anne Hitchner, Kenneth Hitchner, Jr. and Robert Keuch. Music is by Hitchner, who, along with Capice, was among a group of college students who co-wrote and first produced the musical in 1952. The homespun charm of the book is updated with pop culture references, as when a character remarks, "Davidus Petraeus is spending a fortune on the war in Mesopotamia," and when Caesar sings a song called "Farewell, Ladies," in which he drops rhymes like "Paris of Hilton who loves to read Milton."

Sprightly orchestrations are provided by Doug Katsaros, with arrangements and musical direction by Jeffrey Lodin, who also plays keyboards.

Shuford and Riker perform some lovely duets, notably a dream sequence featuring a wistful ballad called "Must Be Falling in Love," and another romantic duet, "One of These Days." Shuford also harmonizes well with Williams on one of the stronger songs, "I Sail For Home."

Matthew Hamel ably directs the whimsically-plotted events, which are enlivened by Tara Jeanne Vallee's choreography. There aren't any ground-breaking songs here, but the singers are very good and this musical is an entertaining, good-humored effort.

"The Sphinx Winx" is performing at The Beckett Theatre through July 24.