Extended through Sun 3/7
Last November, Baldwin Wallace University’s nationally ranked Music Theatre Program produced Spring Awakening online. My capsule judgement of that production read: “Victoria Bussert and her crew and cast avoided, as one of the songs from Spring Awakening states, being ‘Totally Fucked’ and took on the Covid-19 challenge, developing a thought-provoking production which turned out to be the first collegiate pandemic production of the script and further recognition of the college’s program.”
BW, now in coordination with Beck Center for the Arts, a partnership that has existed for ten years, is streaming the world premieres of five fifteen-minute brand-new musicals, in a program entitled 5 X 15. The program is part of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s challenge “to celebrate the power of musical theatre and encourage continued creation of new music theatre pieces during the pandemic.” The five shows presented by BW/Beck were all winners of the NAMT challenge.
The program opened with Monster on the Lawn, in which we find Ricky, a six-year-old, playing on his front lawn. When an incoming hurricane threatens to separate Ricky from his family and his home, he seeks comfort in the presence of a strange and seemingly quiet monster. Obed De La Cruz wrote book, Latino-centric music, and lyrics. Mateus Cardoso was charming as the youngster. He has a youthful presence, expressive eyes and a fine singing voice. It was directed by Jon Martinez, the artistic director of Firebrand Theatre.
The second playlet was Holo. Set in 2189 in a holograph museum, the curator (Bryanna Cuthill) and holographic Kyle (Mackenzie Meyh) have entered into a unique relationship which recounts the pandemic year 2020 and the happenings when the museum directors decide to close down the exhibit, thus erasing Kyle’s existence. Both Meyh and Cuthill display strong pop music voices and were believable in their fantasy roles. The book, music and lyrics are by Nico Juber, with BW grad and Broadway leading lady Ciara Renée (Frozen, Big Fish, Pippen) directing.
White Man’s Burden, also billed as “An Informercial: A Coon’s Life,” takes place in the world of sideshow “freaks” who have been killed because of the color of their skin. Led by an emcee, the cast relates the tales that laid the foundation for the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements. The cast, Dar’jon Bentley (James Byrd Jr.), Jack Hale (Andrew Goodman), Binden Harvey (James Chaney), Godia Hayes (Mikey Mike), Makay Johnson (Yusseff Hawkins), Will Lamb (Michael Schwerner), Zach Mackiewicz (Player), Charles Mayhew Miller (Emmett Till) and JT Snow (Player), create strong visual pictures. Eric Jones wrote the book and lyrics, with music by Joshua Davis. Nathan Henry directs, with musical linguist, Edward Ridley, Jr., serving as musical director.
According to Dale Sampson, the writer and co-lyricists of Rodeo Clowns, during these unusual times, he wanted to conceive a place the audience would be excited to return to every day. The hope, of course, is that Rodeo Clowns could be a fun escape. I wish his goal had been reached. As is, in spite of a valiant effort by the cast (Nick Cortazzo as Butch, Danny Bó asDill, Lee Price as Travis), the script and production make for a long 15 minutes. The script and presentation illustrate well the theatrical saying, “Farce is hard to write and even harder to perform.” Sara Brunner directs.
The highlight of the evening was the closing selection, Perpetual Sunshine & the Ghost Girls, with music by Lynne Shankel, words by Sara Cooper, direction by Victoria Bussert and musical direction by Matthew Webb. In the program notes, Shankel writes, “Sara and I had this idea percolating for a while: a musical about the women who worked at United States Radium Corporation in the 1920s. They worked with radium paint and were slowly being poisoned by it. When the company realized it was in fact the radium that was making them sick, they covered up their findings.” She goes on to say, “The central theme of the piece is that death is not noble. Workers shouldn’t have to put their bodies at risk for the economy. This piece will eventually be an 80-90-minute one-act musical.”
The segment presented consisted mainly of one very well-written and performed song, “Tick, Tick, Lick,” which is a perfect opening for setting the story line. Cast members included Katelyn Baughman, Piper Bruce, Colette Caspari, Audrey Hare, Autumn Key, Jessi Kirtley, Alexa Lopez, Eden Mau, Claire Marie Miller, Andie Peterson, Lauren Senden and Bella Serano.
Based on what they have written so far, the longer version may well work as a musical drama, if the duo of writers can solve how to expand on the concept and use some of the newer staging electronics, such as presented in Mean Girls and Dear Evan Hansen.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: It is always a challenge to perform works in progress. It is more problematic when they are musicals. That difficulty is expanded when the staging is restricted by the electronic medium. The BW/Beck evening of one-act musicals proved to be both a pleasurable and frustrating evening. It will be interesting to see if any of these efforts grow beyond their present form.
The limited virtual engagement runs from February 12-March 7. Ticket purchase provides 48-hour access. For more information visit beckcenter.org. For tickets, $20 for one viewer and $30 for two or more, go here.
[Written by Roy Berko]