[title of show] is perhaps the most self-referential Broadway musical written since A Chorus Line. The plot of the show chronicles two writers and their performing friends as they create and perform a new musical. Originally written for the New York Musical Theatre festival, the show gains traction with an Off-Broadway run, and is headed to Broadway as the plot comes to a close. Although suspense builds regarding the ultimate success of the show, the plot really centers around the artistic process, and the friendship of the collaborators as their show takes shape.
Artists Get Biggest Returns on [title of show]
HE SAID: The real beauty with this show lies in the connection that every actor can make with the material. There is a character for everyone: Heidi (the working actor of the group), Hunter (caterer by day, big-dreaming artist by night), Jeff (trying to find a balance between his responsibility and his passion), and Susan (who hates her day job but loves her friends and the freedom art gives her). I personally have gone back and forth between being all four so far in my life. But no matter which character you connect with most, this play speaks to the part of each artist that needs to create, needs to be a part of something bigger, and sincerely NEEDS to do theatre.
SHE SAID: I completely agree that performers (and artists of all kinds, really) can make a personal connection with this material. Furthermore, I think that all artists will be tickled by the self-referential nature of the show, which demonstrates beautifully that the process of developing a work of art can be a work of art itself. I think that the central premise of the show, while offering incredibly rare opportunities for humor and poignancy, can also be problematic at points. There were a few slow moments (the Festival Medley comes to mind) that didn’t have enough cheeky self-referential twang to save them. Fortunately, it is the clever and poignant moments that ultimately win out over these few slow points.
Simple Design a Blessing and Curse
HE SAID: While I think that sense of slowness partly comes from the show shifting to a more serious gear, part of it comes from, like you said, moments in the material not having enough substance to keep things lively, which is an issue particularly when the design is as simple as it is in this show. That’s right – the set is made up of four identical chairs, personalized for each character, and a keyboard; a simplicity that was somewhat of blessing and a curse. Director Benji Schirm came up with some clever formations and found ways to create levels with chairs. However, the formations felt a bit repetitive at times and often I would have liked to see more space between the characters in the scenes. The lighting also had its ups and downs. The hanging lightbulbs throughout the space were creative and well-used through the piece, as was the lighting used on the cyc. But there were a few odd shadows in certain scenes and the actors needed to be a bit more aware of their light, especially in the down spots which cast nothing but shadows on the face when hit incorrectly.
SHE SAID: I agree that the lightbulbs were very creative and I loved that they extended into the audience, representing that the audience is an acknowledged character in the show. I did have trouble seeing the actors’ faces when they were down-lit as well. I loved the chairs and didn’t notice any of the formations becoming repetitive. My only curiosity technically was about the sound — all of the actors were wearing mics, which at first was surprising in this small space, and as the show went on it didn’t really sound like they were used much. This was rarely a problem, as the strong and pleasant voices filled the space on their own, but when all four were singing together there were occasional balance problems that might have been helped by electronic blending.
Cast Settles Into Heartfelt Comedic Rhythm
HE SAID: What was surprising about the poor sound quality is that I commented how the sound design for this company’s last production, The Wild Party, “was arguably the best I have ever heard in a community theatre show….” Not sure what the issue was, but it is always a shame when the sound prevents the talent on stage from fully shining. That said, it is clear that all four performers are gifted vocally and blended together nicely in their four part harmonies. In terms of acting, Alaina BethReel (Heidi) felt the most consistently sincere to me, and I found her character touching and funny throughout. Keith Rabin Jr. (Jeff), Danny Harrigan (Hunter), and Misha Johnson (Susan) all had wonderful comedic timing but it felt as though they were focusing a bit too much on landing jokes in the beginning. As the show progressed though, they all settled into the piece and by the second half their performances came through with a heartfelt ease that was splendid.
SHE SAID: I found all four to be generally endearing and funny, but for me, Johnson as Susan really impressed me as incredibly sincere. I think my favorite part of the show was generally watching all four characters grow to love each other and their creation. It’s so rare that the audience has full access to the very thing that the characters care so much about, and in this case their creation (the show) is their gift to us, making it even more special. Harrigan as Hunter had so much energy that sometimes he sped through his lines, which at first read as nervous energy, but later really worked in his his favor comedically. Rabin Jr. was relaxed and natural as Jeff, and Reel was appropriately relatable and charming as Heidi.
[title of show] A Personal Accomplishment For Gravity Defied
THEY SAID: This is another fun, energy packed show from Gravity Defied Theatre that is cast with wonderfully fresh talent and helmed by Benji Schirm, who is making his Colorado directing debut. The incredible amount of work Schirm put into this piece is evident. Opening night adrenaline may have got the better of some performances at times and the technical elements had some issues, but the soul of this piece could not have been more alive and perfectly represented than it was by this cast. Gravity Defied founders and [title of show] cast members Keith Rabin Jr. and Danny Harrigan have lived the plight of the show’s creators because they too have fought to bring their dream to fruition and have worked endlessly, with the help of some friends, to see it thrive and grow into something lasting. Their deep connection to the material was completely transparent in the show’s final scene when it was almost as if the characters had gone and Danny, Keith, Alaina, and Mischa were singing to us all. It was a moment of raw, real emotion which is one of the rarest and most beautiful moments an audience member can be treated to at the theatre. That moment alone is worth the price of admission.
For more a full plot synopsis and history of [title of show] see the wikipedia article. [title of show] presented by Gravity Defied Theatre Company plays through November 21 at the Studio Theatre at the Aurora Fox. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.