The story of Rachel Jackson, the divorcee who became the wife of Andrew Jackson, and the accusations of bigamy and adultery that hounded her to her death is a remarkable tale of courage, love, and loss set in the turbulent period after the formation of our country. Unfortunately, her story is given an inadequate vehicle in Bernice Lee’s musical Rachel, directed by Scott Pegg.
Although Lou Greene’s score is adequate, this production could not overcome Lee’s stilted book and lyrics, which seem at worst like a dry history lecture and at best like a Lifetime movie of the week. The lifeless writing wasn’t helped at all by Pegg’s direction. At some points, he embraced the melodrama and let the actors mug their way through the scene. In others, the actors appeared to be singing at a recital; all voice and no movement, face front, expressionless. And while a certain amount of variety keeps a play interesting, this just appeared uneven.
The cast gave it their best, however. While the musical is ostensibly about Rachel and Andrew Jackson, more often than not it seemed to be about John Egaton (Mark Silverberg), the narrator of this memory play and the man who brought Rachel and Andrew together. With his strong voice and natural acting style, Silverberg easily takes the focus when he’s onstage. Kathy Kelleher as Mrs. Robards, Rachel’s first mother-in-law, and Geany Masai as Moll, Rachel’s mother’s maid and Rachel’s staunch defender, both had strong voices and shone despite their underwritten roles. Oh Rhyne looked suitably presidential as Andrew Jackson and Susan Jerome sang her part well as Rachel. Elissa Scarlett Daine, Jennifer Trott-Foote, and Leslie Shreve were noteworthy as the Trio, representing the society ladies who embraced and then betrayed Rachel at the first sign of scandal. The actresses radiated such malicious glee in their roles that they were a delight to watch.
Two aspects of the production were outstanding: the costumes and the musical direction. Designer Tom Claypool created costumes that were appropriate, suited the individual characters, and appeared to be very sumptuous, yet budget-conscious (in the best possible way). Music director and accompanist Richard Sterne was a strong confident piano player, who was able to bring out the best in the singers, cover any false starts and mistakes, and still manage not to be obtrusive. His playing was the high point of the evening.
(Also featuring Kay Arnold, Sandra Bendfeldt, James Bormann, Lewis Robards, John Kelly, Ben Pologe, and John Sacco.)
Stage direction: 0/Musical direction: 2
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Copyright 2005 Byrne Harrison