Early in the second act of American Nocturne, the new musical currently at Wings Theatre, one of the characters describes her job as "superfluous," and if ever a line of dialogue rang with uncomfortable truth, it was that one.
With a total of 17 actors playing nearly 30 separate roles, Bryan Williams's work is a huge, ambitious piece that takes on the current state of affairs in our nation's capital with mixed results. In a program note, Williams states that he is fascinated by the interplay of sex and politics, particularly with our current "take no prisoners" culture and the "no story is beneath us" mentality of the press. "As long as our politicians and the parasitic press insist on behaving like nincompoops, we can have fun with them." And therein lies the problem: the show does not have nearly as much fun with its targets as it should have in order to be entirely successful. The satire lacks bite, and as directed by Lance Hewett, was rendered with a bland, convoluted earnestness that shortchanged any potential for nasty, witty commentary. And at a lengthy 3 hours and 15 minutes, there were a lot of extraneous moments and characters that could have been trimmed without damaging the inherent power of Williams's initial idea. Likewise, Williams's score is unrelievedly mellow when it should be energetically galvanizing, the rippling, unassuming music defeating the sharp thrust of his sometimes Sondheimesque lyrics.
Hewett was more successful with his thoroughly likable cast, all of whom had terrific voices and gave solid performances. Bill Quinlan, as the Bill Clinton-like Senator running for President, captured the double-talking politico with well-greased finesse; Tricia Matlock played his long-suffering wife with grace and wit. Standing out in the large supporting cast were Emily Agress, hilariously vicious as a gossipy journalist, and the delightful Amanda Cronk as a nun with an amusing, badass attitude. ("If you don't believe I'm a nun just hold out your knuckles" she cried with fiendish glee.)
Hewett also designed the serviceable utilitarian set, Abby Taylor Smith provided serviceable costumes, and Michael Abrams provided more than serviceable lighting. Williams acted as musical director, providing a lush, well-orchestrated sound from relatively few instruments and a tight, well-sung rendition of his score.
The state of American politics and culture is ripe for lampooning, and somewhere in the epic sprawl of American Nocturne is a lean, mean musical that trades in some unpleasant truths, waiting to emerge with lethal force. Until then one can only admire the ambition behind American Nocturne, if not the lackluster realization of this particular American dream.
(Also featuring Lisa Charles, Brian Cooper, Kevin Curry-Wise, Joe Danbusky, Skip Dietrich, David Dotterer, Madalyn McKay, Danielle Montezinos, Skip Moore, Randi Newton, Chris Wendelken, John Wood, and Doug Wynn.)
Book: 1 Music: 1 Lyrics: 2
Musical Direction: 2
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita