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Theater review: 'The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World' -- 2.5 stars

The Shaggs

The Shaggs Photo Credit: Handout

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

2.5 stars

The thoroughly disturbing true story of the Shaggs - three awkward sisters from Fremont, N.H., who were forced by their restless father into forming a sensationally awful band in the early 1970s - has the potential to make really compelling theater.

But rather like the album that inspired it, most theatergoers are likely to find Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen's musical "The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World" too bizarre and atonal for its own good.

While many consider the Shaggs to be the worst band ever, others admire the raw and artless purity of their songs. Frank Zappa, for instance, described the Shaggs as "better than the Beatles."

Mill worker Austin Wiggin, played with unbending intensity by Peter Friedman, becomes hypnotically convinced that his daughters have the potential to become teen idols, as predicted by his late mother. When the girls finally hit the recording studio, his idealized version of what they sound like is compared with the real recordings, as heard by the studio engineers.

Anyone even faintly familiar with the musical "Gypsy" will find Austin to be the male equivalent of the destructive stage mother Mama Rose.

Jamey Hood, Sarah Sokolovic and Emily Walton credibly portray the girls' innocence and extreme lack of musical ability. Annie Golden has a strong presence as Austin's loyal wife.

Unfortunately, the writers have sent the show over the edge in terms of pure weirdness. What starts out as an intriguing story is dragged down by lengthy dream sequences and solos meant to express the characters' inner lives.

John Langs' production, which utilizes a complicated two-story set, is poorly staged. You can often hear the annoying humming of mechanized scenery in the background.
The behind-the-music saga of the Shaggs probably would have worked best as a straightforward drama. After all, their story is unbelievable enough already.

If you go: "The Shaggs" plays at Playwrights Horizons through July 3. 416 W. 42nd St., 212-279-4200, playwrightshorizons.org.

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