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|A CurtainUp Review
Heat Lightning: The Musical
By Macey Levin
The new production at The Kirk Theatre on 42nd Street's Theatre Row seems to be a combination of the Cephalus and Procris myth from Ovid's Metamorphoses and Jonathan Larsen's Rent. Heat Lightning updates the myth and fleshes it out with rock and roll music. While the intent is theatrically valid (many classical works have been enhanced or harmed by updating and providing a score,) the writers, George Griggs (music and lyrics) and Paul Andrew Perez (book along with Griggs), are not quite as successful as some of their predecessors.
Seth is a married car salesman living in an unnamed suburb; he also sings at a local bar Thursday nights emulating his idol Elvis. His routine everyday life is cleverly suggested by the use of early morning scenes in which he and his wife Cris repeatedly use virtually the identical dialogue. One night at the bar he meets and beds Aurora. At first, she wants no commitment from Seth but, without a clear motivational shift, she becomes more demanding. Seth struggles with the torment of loving the secure life he has with Cris or succumbing to his lust and continuing the affair with Aurora.
The plot, using the myth's basic structure, is Seth's story focusing on his women and his desire to be a new Elvis. To bolster his self-image, Cris gives Seth, who loves guns, Elvis Presley's pistol for his birthday. He does not realize until it is too late that the life he has with Cris-his job, his house, his Thursday night gig-is complete. What Aurora offers is insubstantial. Seth is a discontented man whose aspirations and desires cannot fulfill him. Other than Seth, however, we learn very little about the people in his life.
There is a lot of music barreling off the small stage. With a four-piece combo at the stage right perimeter, close to twenty numbers are sung by the miked performers. As is often the case with over-amplified musicals the vocalists sometimes shriek so that the lyrics are often unintelligible,. Some of the songs are generic rock and roll running the gamut from comic to angst-ridden. The most effective pieces are solos by Cris and Seth when they are accompanied by a simple instrumentation with the amplifiers turned off. Some of the lyrics are clever, others simplistic and trite. The titles of the songs are not listed in the program, a disadvantage for the theatergoer who would like to recall a particular number.
The set by Leo T. Van Allen is very simply designed. There is one piece-a bed masked on three sides by scrim that is rotated by two women. Within the action of the play they sometimes function as Noh play prop men, a Greek chorus and as backup singers for Seth when he plays the club. A more creative use of the set piece would lend the show some theatrical imagination. Thom Weaver's light design, however, creates atmospheric pictures with its use of color and shadows. The lighting, in fact, often creates dramatic transitions and is one of the more effective elements in the production.
None of the written characters exhibits a wide range of emotion so that the performances, though they fit the piece, do not have to be any more than serviceable. Seth is given some humanity by Sean Fri but there is not enough in the character to allow the audience to admire him.
Laura Marie Duncan as Cris has the most pleasant voice of the cast and brings life to the only sympathetic character in the show. Aurora is a one-note character that Coleen Sexton infuses with energy. Jackie Seiden and Jennifer Waldman complete the cast as the backups and stagehands.
Director Jeremy Dobrish uses the small Kirk playing space effectively despite the theatre's obvious physical limitations. The play moves well and Dobrish's staging is simple and efficient. The choreography by Tessa Bush is energetic but constrained tending toward stock and basic movements.
Heat Lightning does not do anything new. It is a bit too dark to be called entertaining, but it does offer a diverting evening in the theatre.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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