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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Reichel was part of 1995 student research project about the effects of the floods which two years earlier had caused havoc with lives of residents in the Midwest. That project took them to St. Louis Missouri and Valmyer, Illinois —the latter bcoming the model for The Flood's setting, a fictional composite of the many towns affected by the disaster. Even if you don't recall the horrific images seen on television screens in 1993, the ravages inflicted by Hurricane Katrina will make The Flood real and sadly relevant.
Reichel and Mills have fashioned a folk opera about how the events affected the lives of the people of this typical American town and ignited the get up and go spirit that's part of our pioneer mythology. But don't let my use of the word opera scare you off. While there's an epic, operatic flavor to the story, Peter Mills is that rare modern composer who writes in the new musical idiom but without bowing to atonality. The Flood is as chockful of melodies ranging from solos and duets to soaring ensemble numbers as it is peopled with characters whose individual problems and conflicts are heightened by the impending danger of the rising river which, like the moon in the Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori Caroline, Or Change is represented by a female singer -- this production's River, the big-voiced A'lisa D. Miles, has actually played the Moon in Caroline. In fact, one of this musical's flaws is its overabundance of melodies, with no character or plot element too minor to inspire Mills to musicalize it. Consequently, the back story building up to the flood takes up more time than the rebuilding efforts and the catchiest and most powerful numbers like "Just Our Luck", "Hell, We're Americans" and "Sandbagging" tend to get sandwiched into the big picture.
While director Reichel has assembled a large and able cast, the spoken and sung dialogue are undercut by having two less than stellar performances from the two leading female characters. Both JaMie Davies and Catherine Porter are attractive and appealing performers -- Davies as Alice Wright, the girl friend of Mayor Keller's (Joseph O'Brien) rebellious son Raleigh (Matt De Angelis) and Porter as school teacher Susan Fry who's romantically involved with the town's most eligible farmer, Curtis Mowers (Jonathan Rayson). Their voice projection is so weak that they often can't be understood -- this is especially disappointing in "From Here", a solo by Alice which should have been a show stopper.
Still, it's hard to complain about a few less than stellar performances, when everyone on stage is so obviously dedicated and a number do stand up and cheer work; to be specific: Jonathan Rayson, Matt De Angelis Drew Poling (Alice's super religious dad Ezekiel) and Jennifer Blood (Alice's retarded and doomed younger sister Rosemary) . It may seem mean spirited to complain about too much of a good thing when Prospect has managed to put on an absorbing show with solid production values despite a still young company's budget constraints. Set Designer Kanae Heike's imaginative use of sheer fabrics makes for a memorably destructive flood scene to illustrate the potent title song. High praise is also in order for the 7-person band and the superb orchestrations by Mills and Daniel Feyer.
While the audience at the performance I attended was predominantly under thirty, this is not a show to pander to the short attention span, glued to Ipods and MySpace crowd. With its substantive and original book and appealing to the ear and heart music, The Flood is a serious and seriously impressive musical — and at $20 a ticket a genuine bargain.
For some perspective on the range of subject and moods that Prospect Theater has explored, here are links to some of their musicals we've reviewed:
The Pursuit of Persephone
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide