Winging it

Jonathan Larson's Musical Heirs: The Next Generation of Musical Theater Songwriters

Directed by Scott Barnes
Musical direction by Brett Kristofferson
Cafe Chashama
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

This worthwhile endeavor featured songs from winners of grants from the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, itself funded largely from by royalties from Rent.

The evening was hosted by Karen Oberlin. Ms. Oberlin read from notes, which distracted from her introductions to various songs. (The term "winging it" comes from actors learning lines in the wings while they wait for their scenes to come up. It's a useful skill.)

The selections tended toward lyrical complexity matched with unclear thought (perhaps the two were related). "Paradise Mountain," by Jenny Giering/Beth Blatt (sometimes indistinctly performed by Kristy Cates); "A Horse with Wings," by Ricky Ian Gordon (prettily performed by Oberlin); and "It's Amazing the Things That Float," by Peter Mills (performed by Ms. Cates) seemed -- even though delivered, for the most part, cleanly enough -- like songs that might have read well on the page but didn't translate readily to live performance. This is a very subjective call, and obviously others might disagree -- the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation, for one.

Some of the performers showed hesitation, such as Matthew Helton in John Mercurio's "Magic," a song not helped by a weak upper register and an unsure sense of where to put the hands. (Mr. Helton was much more at ease and intimate in John Bucchino's "Sweet Dreams," with Celia Keenan-Bolger.) Others, however, came through with the goods, like the funny David Gurland as a preposterous caveman in "Way Ahead of My Time," by Peter Mills, and Bobby Belfry in Mercurio's "Take a Look At Me," which showed yet again the truth of the adage "less is more," in this case applied to movement.

Musical director Brett Kristofferson, as always, accompanied meticulously, though his singers didn't always seem as thoroughly prepared as they might have been.

The Cafe Chashama is an odd space. They should have a contest in which people could guess what it used to be before it was drafted as a performing space. It has a sort of metal catwalk -- reminiscent of a slaughterhouse -- along one wall, and a red roof. The high grid could support an excellent lighting complement, but there were less than a minimum number of lighting instruments, and those made the environment seem chilly and unfriendly.

The performers were garbed in basic black, with occasional embellishments like black lace that didn't distract from the principal business at hand, which was the songs.

(See also The Johnny Mercer Jamboree.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Performance: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 0

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton