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Actor Showcase

Theater review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Jul 16th, 2016

From left: Carey Van Hollen, Bob Bassett, Michael L'Altrella, Ashley McLeod at Theatreworks.

Theatreworks in Mew Milford revives the 2009 Broadway musical [title of show] with fascinating acting and wonderful singing, accompanied by solid direction by Alicia Dempster. It’s worth seeing and hearing the actors, yet the production’s original albatross hangs on the director’s neck—the script. The musical limns the story of two writer/actors creating a selfie production in workshop-progress with all the back scenes, angst, ambition, and warts.

The principal problem: a lack of character development in the play and this predicament is even mirrored in the single set of a pseudo-artsy loft with mildly satiric primary color “paintings,” as well as no costume changes. Costume changes can reflect subtle changes in character development.

Skits are stitched together with mild wit and the “exciting” prospect of financial success. This is a workshop-selfie stuck in the process of being a tempting “work in progress.”

A poem about writing a poem, or a novel about writing a novel, has little chance of being a major work of art. But that narcissistic approach remains more possible on the extrovert stage with raucous humor, subtlety, and bizarre imagination. The scene and song “Die, Vampire, Die” possesses those qualities and adds excellent choreography to the mix, yet the rest of the play does not rise to that level. “Awkward Photo Shoot” presents a charming skit.

The singing, whether individual or ensemble, by Michael L’Atrella, Bob Bassett, Cary Van Hollen, and Ashley McLeod anchors the show, while the lame script provides an undertow that continually threatens to drown the actors.  They even nail four-part harmonies. But attempts at humor are lame, obscurely witty, or burdened with banal vulgarity.

As a viewer, one has little opportunity to develop identification with characters. The two main characters appear to be mirror images of the same character, except that Hunter (Bob Bassett) possesses more theatrical, chameleon flamboyance. The same fate awaits the two women: Carey van Hollen as Susan projects talent larger than her role, while Ashley McLeod as Heidi has an autobiographical song that earns some empathy. Perhaps each character, including the unsung sidebar keyboard player should have also enjoyed similar spotlight solos in the vein of A Chorus Line.

This play offers a showcase platform for acting and singing talent—that talent is here to see and hear. But the play itself remains a workshop caught in second gear and going nowhere, propelled by trite, yet pleasant, notes.