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The Water Coolers: An Office Musical

a Musical Revue
by Thomas Michael Allen

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 2512

SHOWING : September 14, 2007 - November 11, 2007



Life in the Office -- It's not a job, it's a Musical!

If you’ve ever had a case of the “Mondays”, you’ll Laugh-Out-Loud at this musical that gives us a Behind-the-Cubicle View of the tenacity and charm needed to make it through the work week. Join these co-workers as they juggle work, family, romance, Blackberry obsessions and computer meltdowns, all while racing toward the deadline for the “big presentations”.

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Agenda Items
by Dedalus
Monday, October 15, 2007
3rd-Quarter Executive Performance Evaluation Rating: 3.27 out of 5.00 (Almost Meets Expections)

“The Water Coolers – An Office Musical” (currently at Horizon Theatre) is one of those plays I really wanted to like, but, for whatever reason, I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm the rest of the audience seemed to find (yes, this will be another “I’m out of step with everyone else who sees this show” pseudo-review).

As a thirty-year veteran of Corporate America in my “day job,” I can certainly appreciate satire directed at the business world, and even seek it out (I’m second to none for my fondness for “Dilbert”). In this case, there are some jabs that strike home and amuse, but, more often, the show aims at easy targets we’ve seen satirized better before (in Horizon’s own “Charm School” earlier this year, to give an obvious example). Or, even worse, the show makes its points in a line or two of song, then lets the song go on for four or five minutes making the same point again and again and again.

In a nutshell, my experience at this show was very much like my experience at a typical business meeting – Agenda items were tackled one and at a time (Paranoia – check, IT cockiness – check, Political Correctness in the Office – check, etc etc etc), a pseudo-inspirational message closed the session, and I returned to my cubicle, no wiser and a little bit irked at the waste of time.

I do have to confess to enjoying the “IT Cowboy” number that ends the first act, and the “Who Will Buy?” parody that opens the second (in which the workers hawk their kids’ fund-raising junk to each other and to us). I also have to confess to enjoying the interactions the cast had with the audience, and began to look forward to the quick and funny scene changes for that reason (I suppose it’s a problem when the scene changes are more memorable than the scenes themselves, but better that than the “dead air” we too often get between set-ups). The paranoia and “inspirationary” bits, though, miss their targets and go on for far too long.

And the last number, in which the cast celebrates their on-the-job success, struck me as too out of the spirit of the rest of the evening. Maybe if the parodies weren’t so “over the top” absurd, or some note of job satisfaction had crept into earlier scenes, this would have worked. As it stands, though, it seemed to me as if the creators wanted to “have their cake and eat it too.” In other words, they spend an hour and forty-minutes throwing scuds at the workplace, but then perform a classic bait-and-switch turnaround to let us know they really like their target.

The cast does what they can, but they are often left stranded by the material. For example, Agnes Harty does nice work as a harried manager (who desperately needs some time-management training), but when she breaks the mood for a wistful song about missing family moments, it seems like it’s out of another play. Veteren funnyman Jeff McKerley also rarely goes deeper than his standard Jeff McKerley schtick to find a character (okay, it’s admittedly good schtick). Newcomer Lauren Jones has some good moments, and Brandon O’Dell and Jason MacDonald also shine when given the chance. My problem though, is that they are all playing various “types” and are never given an opportunity to develop characters we can connect to.

And that, is probably why I enjoyed this less than the rest of the audience. Everyone has a workplace horror story they enjoy telling again and again, and an evening where office foibles are skewered and easy laughs are celebrated, only curmudgeonly old farts like me who see far too many plays could ask for more.

Please don’t judge me too harshly for asking.

-- Brad Rudy (


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