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Archive for April, 2011

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US National Tour

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

April 13 and 16, 2011

If you live in or anywhere near St. Louis, just go see this show. It’s that good.  I had been waiting to see this production for almost a year, after checking clips online out of curiosity (because I had read that one of my favorite musical theatre performers liked it), and then buying the cast album and simply falling in love with it.   I love musical theatre, and I have many favorite shows, but this one is just really special.  I will try my best to coherently explain why while keeping the review as spoiler-free as possible.

First, here’s a clip (from the original Broadway cast), in  a concert setting, of one of my favorite songs:

This production, the tour based on the Broadway production directed by Michael Greif, is worth all the hype you might read and more.  This is a show that almost defies description–it’s a musical (book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt) about a family where the mother is suffering from bi-polar disorder, but it’s a lot more than that.  It’s a show about  people, and real everyday issues that are dealt with by many families, including  parental favoritism, ideals and dreams vs. reality, the dilemma of trying to protect loved ones vs. allowing them to make their own mistakes, and the strain of trying to keep up the appearance of perfection when the reality of life is anything but perfect.  It also has such a strong score and script that blend seamlessly together to tell this very intense, gripping story.

I was able to see two performances of this show, and as a result I saw both the regular cast members and the standbys as Diana, the mother, and her husband Dan.  On Wednesday night, I saw Pearl Sun and Jason Watson (the standbys) and on Saturday I saw Alice Ripley and Asa Somers (the regulars), and all were excellent, except I have to admit I’m a bit concerned about Ripley’s voice.  She originated the role on Broadway and won a well-deserved Tony Award, and she is wonderful in the role, especially as an actress, but her voice sounded very strained and hard to understand in places, and that was sometimes a distraction.  Sun on the other hand, had a clear and strong voice and acted the role very well, although she didn’t have quite the commanding presence and manic edge of Ripley.  With Watson and Somers, I think Watson had the stronger voice, but both actors turned in excellent performances–with Somers as more of a gentle, weary Dan and Watson a little more assertive.  It’s a testimony to the strength of this production and cast that the show works so well with different performers in the main roles.

Emma Hunton, as daughter Natalie, brings real depth to her role as a teenage girl who feels overwhelmed by circumstances and neglected by both parents in different ways.  She’s at turns sarcastic, pessimistic, angry, and surprisingly hopeful. Preston Sadleir as her boyfriend Henry provides solid support.  Son Gabe is an enigmatic figure well-played here by Curt Hansen.  He has the strong, acrobatic voice, boyish good looks, and tons of energy and stage presence.   Jeremy Kushnier, in a dual role as two of Diana’s doctors, is also excellent, with a strong voice that serves the rock-based score well.

This is such a perfectly constructed show, with elements of comedy, drama, realism and fantasy blended together to tell the story in a unique way.  There are some great songs, such as “Superboy and the Invisible Girl”, “I Miss the Mountains”, “I’m Alive”, “Light” and many more, but the songs are integrated into the script so well that it’s hard to imagine most of them sung out of context.  The songs serve the script, and the script serves the songs.  The show is also very cleverly staged, on an impressive multi-level set that allows for many scenes to be going on at one time.  It also provides the opportunity for some very athletic choreography especially for the character of Gabe.  The set also allows the show’s band to be onstage with the cast.   The lighting, costumes and sound were also top-notch, and added to both the realism and fantasy of the piece.

This show  has such truth in it, even if you don’t have the same issues as those of this family.    This is a show about mental illness, yes, and it is very specific in dealing with that issue,  but it’s also about hopes and dreams, and regrets, and just the everyday struggles of an imperfect family learning how to love and support one another.  It presents the characters as real people. There are no black-and-white, simple answers.  This show takes the characters on a journey, and as the show ends, they are all still on it.  There are some resolutions, but a lot is left open-ended as well, just like real life.   There is much that can be related to in this show, and the script, music and performances all worked together to make for an extraordinary theatrical experience.

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