Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! - Reviews

Show Business Weekly
Rayhané S. Sanders 

"Never has a musical been so infectiously delightful..."

Not one for musical theater, I remained skeptical of this latest little engine that could at First Avenue’s Theater for the New City. I couldn’t help but cringe a little while eyeing the poster for the show: Set in a “retro future?” One where the pharmaceutical companies had finally taken over the world? The story of three young activists, ready to take on The Man and restore humanity with nothing but their ukuleles in hand? Oh, boy.

Oh, boy is right: Never has a musical been so infectiously delightful as Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! I usually flinch each time a cast breaks out into song, but with jazz legend and ragtime scholar Terry Waldo’s amazing compositions, choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall’s campy moves and a cast and chorus that are irresistibly charming in each and every scene, the joy was contagious. My dreaded 80 minutes were a capsule of pure delight.

Julie (Meg Cavanaugh), Liz (Lindsay Foreman) and Max (John Forkner) make up a ukulele trio who — not part of the world’s elite “Top 10” — are forced to practice illegally in back alleys. The world around them is a totalitarian regime — part Cuckoo’s Nest (failure to take your meds, or “drug evasion,” can land you in jail), part Fahrenheit 451 (music considered “inspirational” to the human spirit is banned) and halfway to Gattaca, with the “Love Police” shaking and shimmying their way to blanket arrests of anyone who dares to “monogamate,” i.e. go steady. Sex is for pleasure, drugs sustain sanity, and life is regulated to be lived efficiently. Love — and certainly Don Ho-like strumming about love — is not part of the picture. That is, until rebel-to-society Edger (played by the immensely talented Andrew Guilarte) enters the friends’ world.

A spoof on the music industry, our increasingly corporate culture and even, in one less-than-subtle dance number, Nazism, Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! is a camp tour-de-force that manages, somehow, to also be steeped in American roots music.


Strung Up: Rebel musicians strum their way through a corporate-controlled dystopia in Uke Jackson’s Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles!
Go to this review, click here.
Emily Meredith • Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Monogamy! Big Pharma! & Subversive Music! Don't Forget the Ukuleles!

The 2008 UkeFest , a four day-long homage to the cigar box-sized stringed instrument - starts next Thursday at the Theater for the New City .  If you're not fully prepared to immerse yourself in ukulele culture, futuristic musical Sex!Drugs! & Ukuleles! offers a small introduction.
The show is set against the backdrop of a pharmacological dystopia in which The Corporation mandates people take drugs for ailments like sexual desire and the Love Police hunt down illegal monogamous lovers.
The plot, written by the UkeFest's founder, Uke Jackson, revolves around a trio of three ukulele players who practice their subversive craft in an empty warehouse where a drug evader discovers them and encourages them to try out for the American Idol -esque Top 10. 
If the plot feels oddly familiar, the show admits to lifting themes from Fahrenheit 451 and The Idolmaker. Its band of underground musicians could have been at home in the setting for V for Vendetta , 1984 or Brave New World , too.
The mash-up commentary on our overmedicated culture, corporate dominance and ignorance of love and art is a big mandate for the play.  Lines like "If this ain't love, Jesse James was a girl" and "Chemical emancipation - that's the new gyration" punctuate its songs with a goofiness that relieves some of that burden.
Still, the playful strumming and the endearing innocence of the characters, who dub sex with a loved one 'monogomation', left a mostly optimistic feeling
And damned if I wasn't whistling the kitschy, plucky refrain on my way out of the theater.
"...take a blue bit of sky, put it in your pocket..."

Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! runs through April 6th at The Theater for the New City
155 First Ave (at E. 10th St.), 212-352-3101
Go to this review, click here.


New York Times
"The best moments come from Ms. Cavanaugh and especially Ms. Foreman, who both show a good sense of comic timing and the facial expressions to go with it."

READER REVIEWS from (posted in response to NY Times review)

More! Sex! Drugs! Ukuleles! Please, March 25, 2008
Reviewer: dankassell
When drug companies take over the world , sex is illegal, so is failure to take your drugs. This retro romantic comedy of the future Sex! Drugs! Ukuleles! conceived by Uke Jackson includes newly conceived Ragtime, early New Orleans Swing-Jazz and Rock 'n' Roll music by Eubie Blake's student pianist/author Terry Waldo. A youthful trio of musicians Julie (Meg Cavanaugh), Liz (Lindsey Foreman) and Max (John Forkner) - the gals each with youthful squeaky soprano voices sing in unison as they play cigar box ukuleles with Max leading playing uke to such nostalgically inspired lyrics by Jackson particularly "Good Music," "Ukulele Land" that it's a Hoot! Morphed into Golden Jacket wearing stars called the "Ukulele Outlaws," their anthem became "I Wanna A Drug," The ensemble of singing dancers (choreographed by Celia Rowlson-Hall) led by a wonderful tapping Dustin Flores get inspired by Mr. Waldo's rhythms during "What is it 'Bout Music." This delightful 80 minute March 13th show (that only needs an intermission to nourish the audience) ends with "Everywhere you have the sweet strum of a ukulele!" But pianist Terry Waldo and drummer John Gill (or his alternate Kevin Dorn) don't stop playing eliciting audience applause, whistling, clapping in unison inspiring a jazz packed improvised Encore. Dan Kassell Member, Jazz Journalist Association All Rights Reserved


Jealous?, March 24, 2008
Reviewer: johnlee29
Last week I saw SDU and was both delightfully surprised and a little irritated. It seemed to my companions and myself that the NY Times Reviewer was more concerned with contradicting the Backstage Pick than reviewing the show accurately. I will not argue with whether or not he liked it but his review mainly contradicted Backstage paragraph by paragraph. Though the first 15 minutes where a little heavy-handed, once the Ukulele Land number started it was mindless fun! The numbers were charming and funny and the performances from all 4 leads well executed. Mr Forkner has a very wide range of facial expressions, and the chorus was terrific! As for no great voices, did he want Barbara Cook? The voices were very good, especially Miss Cavenaugh, even with the uneven sound-and why not give them some credit for learning the Ukes? Great fun!


A Fun Time, March 21, 2008
Reviewer: memyself_i
My husband and I were looking for something to take our minds off all the bad news in the day's papers, and happened to stumble on 'Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles!.' We loved every minute. The cast, the's amazing what can be accomplished with a little space and a lot of imagination (and talent). Yeah, there's sex -- sorta. Yeah, there's drugs -- kinda. But the ukulele -- oh yeah baby! The songs range in style from chipper Tin Pan Alley to the bluest of blues (stopping on the way for an 80s power-rock parody); all played on that happiest of instruments: the ukulele. (A word of warning: you may find yourself yearning to learn to play the uke just to keep that good time going.) This isn't Chekov, it's not's just fun. Good times are in short supply lately, so we may just wander back to 'Ukulele Land.'


  Did I See The Same Show?, March 18, 2008
Reviewer: benchley
There must be two "Sex, Drugs & Ukuleles" playing in town because the one I saw last Thursday at The Theatre for the New City was one of the most entertaining and enjoyable evenings in the theatre I've had in a long time! The NY Times critic here must've seen the other one! review
Martin Denton • March 15, 2008

"It has been a very long time since I've had as much fun at a musical as I had at Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! I was also unexpectedly touched. And I was thrilled by the can-do activist energy of this show, which in many ways is a throwback to the (seemingly lost) genre of 1960s protest theatre.
So how can one 80-minute musical comedy succeed at being so many different things? Know-how, for starters: the creators of this remarkable new show are Uke Jackson (book and lyrics), who, under his birth name of Stephen DiLauro, has written poetry and stories including the River Tales project for public radio, and Terry Waldo (music and music direction), accomplished historian and practitioner of ragtime and protege of Eubie Blake. Waldo plays piano at every performance of Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles!, and he and percussionist John Gill (who has played with Turk Murphy and Woody Allen) create a thrilling sound that is worth at least the price of admission just to hear and appreciate.
These veteran artists are joined by a cast of ten young performers who have energy and talent to spare, including leading players Andrew Guilarte, Meg Cavanaugh, Lindsay Foreman, and John Forkner, who act and sing and frequently accompany themselves on the ukulele with sublime style, and a chorus comprising Mia Breaux, Tammy Carrasco, Jenna Fakhoury, Kristen Lewis, Guy Lockard, and Dustin Flores, the latter two of whom come close to stopping the show with a full-voiced ballad and a couple of tap solos, respectively.
But there's more than just talent on display here. What makes Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! work is its passion. Jackson and his collaborators (including, notably, director Victor Maog, whose realization of this piece on stage at TNC in a modest but utterly deft production is outstanding) have something important they want to tell us. And they tell it with such compelling simplicity that we can't help but listen and, perhaps, become enlightened and enlarged for the telling.
The show takes place nearly a hundred years in the future, in a not-so-brave new world where the entire globe is controlled by a pharmaceuticals mega-corporation. Most of the pleasures we take for granted now, such as sex and music, are illegal; the populace exists in medicated placidity, fed drugs by their Big Brother-ish government. Jackson and Maog set up this conceit with wit and economy, so that we instantly understand that this is a cautionary tale, but one with at least a morsel of hope contained within it.
That hope takes the form of three young friends, Julie (Cavanaugh), Liz (Foreman), and Max (Forkner), who secretly meet to play the ukulele together in an abandoned building. (They choose the uke because it's small and lightweight and easy to hide.) One day, a mysterious stranger (Guilarte) appears, promising them a chance to play their music in the only legally sanctioned way—as one of the "Top Ten," a government-sponsored elite who create and perform all of the world's songs. The trio eventually decide to follow his advice, which involves time spent in a place called "Ukuleleland" and ultimately to the hoped-for audition. Soon the lure of success and fortune threatens to derail them from their idealistic plans. Or will it...?
The plot effectively reminds us of the need to be true to ourselves and to question any kind of arbitrary authority, without ever feeling polemical or hackneyed and certainly without resorting to either irony or scare tactics. The activist spirit of Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! is strong and authentic, yet it is very gentle.
The eclectic, lively, simple tunes that Waldo has created here, along with the sometimes pointed, sometimes poetic, always honest lyrics by Jackson, are charming and infectious. (You can hear the show's signature song, "Time to Fly," performed by Cavanaugh, Foreman, and Forkner, on this nytheatrecast—about 16 minutes in.) And the sentiments sometimes catch you by surprise; I know I found myself unexpectedly and deeply moved by the sheer good-natured exuberance of this show—you forget how much you miss unalloyed and unadulterated innocence and high-spirited fun.
Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! has very little sex in it, and it wants to rid us all of our drug habits, especially the legal ones. What's left in the formula are the ukuleles. The sound of them being strummed by these three rebel musicians is a joyful noise indeed."
Go to this review, click here.


Time Out New York
"Finally, the poodle of the guitar world gets some respect when a plucky band of ukulele strummers defy the authorities in the music deprived, sexless future of Uke Jackson (book and lyrics) and composer Terry Waldo’s dystopian musical comedy."


Back Stage
March 14 • Christopher Murray
". . . this show is this year's jewel in the crown . . . The show is replete with fun and upbeat choreography by Celia Rowlson-Hall -- featuring the elastic and enthusiastic dancer Dustin Flores -- and winsome and witty costumes by Susan Gittens. The songs, all in the New Orleans jazz mode, are short, optimistic . . . and come cascading one right after another. The performers play the broad, winking comedy appealingly, particularly John Forkner as a kind of uke sex symbol with his crown of curly hair and aren't-I-cute smile. "
"A fast 90 minutes, Sex! Drugs! & Ukuleles! charms with ease, rightly wearing its limited ambitions as a badge of honor: to provide a little musical entertainment in a troubled world."
Go to this review, click here.

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NY Times covers the New York Uke Fest 2008.
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