A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The team of Kander and Ebb (that's song writer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb)created some of the contemporary musical theater's most sophisticated and durable shows. Fred Ebb is no longer with us but true the spirit of the show must go on, the octogenarian Kander has teamed up with Greg Pierce (author of Slow Girl ) for their first but not last musical (Kid Victory is in the works)
Kander's music has a lovely tinkly sound with Kanderesque sophistication and bounce. It's also beautifully orchestrated and expertly performed by a quartet of musicians positioned in balconies at either side of the orchestra. However, except for a very occasional standout tune, Kander's score functions mostly to accentuate Pierce's triptych, which probably accounts for there being no song list in the program. The simple but colorful setting features only a single scene (in the middle piece) that can qualify as a production number.
Pierce's stories aren't all that absorbing or ideal as the foundation stone for a musical. The most obvious connection is that each of these mini-musicals features the same actors, with a young boy with a very different agenda at the heart of each. The thematic connecting threads are youthful wonder, hope and disillusion.
In Andra, the first and most realistic story, Noah, a smart but friendless boy bonds with a carpenter whose fanciful astral stories provide an escape from bullying in school, but the friendship ends in disappointment. . . in The Brick the boy, now named Darius, is the one with a fanciful tale to tell, this one about his aunt's buying a piece of memorabilia from the Chicago garage where the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre took place . . .finally, in The Landing which is the one used as the umbrella title and the most emotionally resonant, we have an other-worldly boy named Darius adopted by two Gay men.
I suppose you might see the tall tale aspect of all three plays as another connecting thread. For sure, being the always front and center boy, is a tall order to fill and Frankie Seratch handles it with considerable charm and confidence.
But good as young Seratch is, it's Uncle David who is the most nuanced actor of this enterprise. No, there's no character named Uncle David, but lucky for us and his nephew Greg, David Hyde Pierce (whose musical credits include Kander and Ebb's Curtains is in the cast. The versatile and always terrific actor is rather wasted in the overlong "Andra." But the heretofore somewhat languid show springs to life when Hyde Pierce arrives on scene. It seems Darius's Aunt Charl who's hooked on old gangster movies can't resist ordering a brick said to be a genuine piece of gangster memorabilia. And so the brick arrives and morphs into a wonderful gangsterish David Hyde Pierce, his pin-striped suit lined in Brick silk (a great touch by costumer Michael Krass). While it's all rather silly stuff it's also a lot of fun and gives Julia Murney a chance to strut her vocal and performance talents. Paul Anthony Stewart adds to the fun in multiple roles.
Mr. Hyde Pierce shows off his more serious side in the fable that serves as the show's umbrella title. While he's enormously touching as one of the two new Dads and the play has a nice bittersweet feel, you can see the other-worldly element coming way before it's actually revealed. Somehow, I caught myself wondering whatever happened to The Kid the full bodied musical about two adopting Gay Dads that opened to good reviews three years ago but hasn't been heard from since.
Even though not top drawer Kander, this chamber musical has just enough of the musical maestro's razzle-dazzle for us use a line from a touching little ballad at the end of The Landing to tell him "Thank you for that."