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A CurtainUp Review
The show, now onstage at the 45th Street Theatre, is an excellent showcase for the five golden-voiced actors who bring its songs to life. But the real stars of Fugitive Songs are Miller and Tysen, who have created a tuneful, genuinely evocative score. Miller's music features soaring harmonies with elements of folk rock, bluegrass and old-fashioned theatre music, and is backed up by a piano and terrific four-piece band. Tysen's lyrics have moments of real wit ("I found drinking/No, drinking found me") and usually walk the line between rock and theatre with ease.
Dramatically, the songs are somewhat uneven. Some are wonderfully detailed, while others feel less specific and therefore less interesting by comparison. To focus on the highlights: "Wilson", in which a stoner (Ben Roseberry, who gets most of the comic songs in the show) inadvertently helps his friend rob a gas station; "Kansas Highway Sky," about three friends lost in their own thoughts on a cross-country bike trip; "Passing Tracy," about a hitchhiker (Todd E. Pettiford, who's solid throughout) who sees his ex-girlfriend inside every car that speeds by him; and the opening number "Reasons to Run" which beautifully sets up all that follows it.
Best of all, the small theatre doesn't need amplification. The scenic and lighting design (and , respectively) reflect. The production values are somewhat problematic. The two-level set by Brian Prather segregates the space, rather than expanding it, and Joel Shier's scarce lighting occasionally and inexplicably leaves its singers in the dark. However, director Joe Calarco, who has worked with Miller and Tysen extensively, has staged the numbers nicely, occasionally enhancing their theatricality by adding a few props, but generally just letting his actors dig in.
The performance reminded me to some extent of Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World. The sound is quite different, but both shows feature a group characters standing on precipices and crossing borders (metaphorically and literally). Shows like these are more rewarding for their promise of future musical theatre brilliance than on their own as piece of theatre. (Like a really good appetizer.) As such, we've got a lot to look forward to.
Editor's Note: You might want to read our review of the lovely book musical, Burnt Part Boys, that Miller and Tyson and Calarco collaborated on for the Barrington Stage Musical Theater Lab several seasons ago: Burnt Part Boys Review.