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A CurtainUp Review
The Flood



Let the river rise
Let the Heavens Fall
Let the storm make soldiers of us all

— the citizens of Meyerville in "Higher Ground" after their decision to keep their town intact even though it meant selling their land and rebuilding high above the Mississippi River and its tributaries r which had devastated their homes.

A'lisa D. Miles as The River and Jennifer Blood as Rosemary in The Flood
A'lisa D. Miles as The River and Jennifer Blood as Rosemary in The Flood
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Yes, the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals with their no sooner heard than hummed tunes and colorful choreography were wonderful. And, yes Chorus Line is worth reviving for its innovative prop-less staging and drop dead dancing and it's heartening that Jersey Boys has broken the jukebox musical jinx by combining a famous pop group's canon with a genuinely interesting book. You can also count me among Sondheim's many fans. However, while I like the work of his so-called heirs like Adam Guettel and Michael John LacCiusa, I'm especially drawn to new musicals that aren't adapted from novels (Guettell's Light in the Piazza) or classic dramas (LaChiusa's adaptation of Rashomon and Medea for See What I Wanna See and Marie Christine), but create librettos from scratch. Which brings us to husband and wife collaborators Cara Reichel and Peter Mills and their Prospect Theater Company which has just launched its sixth New York season with The Flood, a musical seeded during their undergraduate days at Princeton.

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
Ilyria
Iron Curtain

THE FLOOD
Book, music and lyrics by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel
Directed by Cara Reichel
Musical direction: Justin Hatchimonji
Cast: Jennifer Blood (Rosemary Wright, Jamie Davis (Alice Wright),, Matt DeAngelis (Raleigh Keller), A'lisa D. Miles (The River), Joseph O'Brien (Mayor Keller), Drew Poling (Ezekiel Wright), Catherine Porter (Susan Frye), and Jonathan Rayson (Curtis Mowers); also Joe Bergquist, Victoria Bundonis, Nick Cartell, Deborah Grausman, Carol Hickey, Greg Horton, Dan Housek, Suzanne Houston, Amy Hutchins, Jean McCormick, Michael Pesce, Zachary Prince, Daniel Scott Richards, Zachary Wobensmith, and Erica Wright. :
Sets: Kanae Heike
Costumes: Sidney Shannon
Lights: Evan Purcell
Sound: Shannon Slaton
Orchestra: Piano/Conductor — Justin Hatchimonji; Flute/Clarinet/Alto Sax —Eric Kay; Oboe/Clarinet/Bass Clarinet — Josh Johnson; Violin —Yury Shubov; Cello — Jillian Ann La Boy; Bass — Matt Scharfglass; Drums/Percussion— Alexander Rae
Running Time: Approximately 2 1/2 hours including intermission
Prospect Theater Company a Chernuchin Theatre, 314 W. 54 ST. (8/9th Aves), 2nd floor, 212/352-3101
From October 21 to November 19, 2006.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Tickets: $20
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 23rd performance

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Prologue/ River, Rosemary, Ensemble
  • One Hundred Years /Citizens of Meyerville
  • Highway Miles /Raleigh
  • I Could Do Wonders With You /Curbs
  • River Lullaby /River, Rosemary, Alice
  • Pass It On/ Ezekiel
  • The Song of the Cicadas /Susan, Raleigh, Alice, Curtis & Ensemble
  • Just Our Luck /Citizens of Meyrrville
  • River Duet / Rosemary, River
  • Runaways /Raleigh, Rosemary
  • Hell, We're American /Keller & Townsmen
  • One Man With A Shovel /Ezekiel
  • Right Before The Kiss /Alice, Rosemary
  • Sandbagging /Citizens of Meyerville, River
Act Two
  • Another Quiet Night In Meyerville Citizens of Meyerville
  • The Flood River, Ensemble women
  • The House Came Down /Citizens of Meyerville
  • Float /Susan
  • The Third Day /River, Raleigh
  • Just Our Luck (reprise)/ Citizens of Meyerville
  • My Father's Song /Curtis, Ezekiel
  • From Here / Alice
  • Higher Ground /Citizens of Meyerville
  • Epilogue

broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.



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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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