The Critical Mass

Shake your Eddie Money Maker

Eddie Money, innocent passerby Ernie Orlando and, lurking in the background, the young Eddie Money.

Your first reaction probably isn’t: “Wow! There’s Eddie Money!”

It’s more like: “Huh. So that’s Eddie Money…”

This despite Money having sold more than 30 million albums. The guy exudes an everyman vibe. “Eddie Money was here last week,” the waitress at Mr. Dominic’s said. “I had my picture taken with him.” That’s the way it’s been in Rochester the last few weeks. The ’80s rock star, star somewhat faded, taking a break from the casino circuit, posing for photos. Money here, Money there. Getting ready for Wednesday’s world premiere of Two Tickets to Paradise: The Eddie Money Musical. Five shows, running through Feb. 18 at Kodak Center for the Performing Arts Center. Then, they say, take it on the road.

I’ve been asking around. Trying to figure out why Eddie Money, why Rochester. “He’s got connections here,” is the best answer I’ve heard, and that’s kinda vague. Money’s evidently been shopping it around for a few years, and Rochester Association of the Performing Arts CEO and President Jim Vollertsen is the one who took an interest in developing the project. He’s the producer, and at an abbreviated sneak preview said that Money actually wrote Two Tickets to Paradise eight years ago. But, “It was terrible, you gotta fix it,” Vollertsen said Money told him.

Did they fix it? It’s hard to say from that brief glimpse a couple of weeks ago at University Preparatory Charter School on Lake Avenue. Fifty or so media types and folks associated with the show gathered to watch a musical being born on a gymnasium floor, because the production needed a rehearsal space approaching the 80-foot stage at Kodak Center. The invitees glanced up at the basketball hoops and wondered: How’s the 68-year-old Eddie Money’s jump shot? Likely better than the jokes he was telling as a little audience warm-up.

Two Tickets to Paradise has been reworked by Eric Johnson, the show’s artistic director, and Dresden Engle, who’s well known here for her own musical-comedy endeavors, as well as her work with the comedy troupe EstroFest. It’s a Rochester production, with RAPA casting. And Engle, who’s quite good as the mother of young Eddie Mahoney, as he was known in his formative years.

Throughout the short preview, we sampled a few songs; the show includes the familiar Money hits – “Shakin’,” “Baby Hold On,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “Two Tickets to Paradise” – and six new ones. Starting off in the turbulent ’60s, with his brother in Vietnam, we see young Mahoney rebel against his family’s wishes that he follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and father and become a New York City cop. Father and son butt heads and dad demands the kid quit prancing around like a fairy and get a haircut. Haircut? Eddie wants to be a rock star. These scenes of Italian household charm and chaos have the feel of The Calamari Sisters, always a big hit with Rochester audiences, but with more drugs. As his star ascends, Money’s girlfriend scolds him for caring only about money, drugs and fame, and not enough about the music.

The dance numbers look big, with Money’s music arranged for both orchestra and a rock band, as Money himself narrates the story of his life. He’s watching Alec Nevin; A Webster native and Ithaca College grad, Nevin looks a lot like the young Money, down to that sheepish and endearing grin Money always seemed to wear, like he was asking: Can you believe I’m doing a video?

The inspiration for Two Tickets to Paradise, Money told the preview audience, was Jersey Boys, the acclaimed Frankie Valle musical. Is there enough here? We’ve certainly had plenty of stories of those who seek fame and, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun, flame out and fall to earth.

The story arc is a familiar one. Redemption. Does Money, like Frankie Valle, overcome personal and professional challenges?

Or does he end up like William Holden’s screenwriter Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, floating face down in a swimming pool, dead?

Will Eddie Money live?

Guess.

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