A CurtainUp Review
Apparently inspired by a legend that tells of these cetaceous mammals having the ability to transform themselves for sport into humans, Childs has charted a particularly messy course for her fun-and-games-loving subjects. Despite their easy transformation, one that requires little more than a swim through an undersea time portal, it's a rough life that they aspire towards as racially mixed humans.
We must assume that as the creator of the music, lyrics and book, Childs had a plan other than merely fulfilling a commissioned obligation to the Vineyard?s Kitty Carlisle Hart Musical Theater Lab. Unfolding like a tacky children?s theater production -- although one without a bit of wit, cleverness, or any consideration of a child's intelligence -- Miracle Brothers appears less the work of an artist of great promise than that of a floundering amateur.
Gonsidering Child's appealing score for The Bubbly Black Girl, it would seem reasonable to expect her music would be focused and atmospherically seductive with an occasional nod to the classic/traditional rhythms that define the music of Brazil. But this isn?t a case of where is Villa Lobos when we need him, but rather why Child's musical impulses lead her to stray so far -- often from anything remotely musically characteristic of the setting. One might forgive this if her score was the least bit interesting or affecting.
The music is hardly helped by being heavily amplified (what a disgrace considering the small size of the Vineyard Theater), neither is it helped by lyrics that range from the banal to vulgar. The text, when it isn't being coy, tongue-in-cheek, or downright sophomoric does inform and make references to such words as Botos (the river dolphin), Candomble (A Brazilian religion), Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial arts), Bandeirantes (organized guns-for-hire) and quilombo (a republic of escaped slaves).
Act I sets up some expectation for a tale grounded in magic realism. However, Act II affects a jarring change of tone and temperament, veering wildly out of control both musically and dramatically and into the realm of old fashioned musical comedy. After this shape-shifting, the story involves the tenuous and tight relationship of Fernando (Tyler Maynard), the frail, consumptive white son of a lecherous plantation owner Lascivio (Jay Goede) and Fernando's black half brother Green Eyes (Clifton Oliver), a sturdy black slave. The boys? respective mothers Isabel (Kerry Butler) and Felicidade (Cheryl Freeman) try but fail to keep their sons apart. Tutored by his stronger brother in the art of Capoeira, Fernando builds up enough confidence to stand up to his father when he falsely accuses Isabel of being unfaithful. When Fernando accidentally kills Lascivio, Isabel, in an attempt to save him , accuses Green Eyes, who then flees into the jungle. In hot pursuit (think Uncle Tom's Cabin in the tropics), is the evil sneering, grimacing plantation overseer (William Youmans) and his pack of slave-catchers. Fernando also flees from the plantation into the jungle where he connects with Ginga (Nicole Leach), a sassy jungle-smart black babe wielding a mean machete who convinces herself that Fernando is black when she sees how sexy and adept he is with Capoeira.
In the midst of G.W. Mercier's minimally lush setting, which will remind those old enough to remember of an old Copacabana revue, a lot of hiding and seeking goes on. There is also plenty of shimmying and grinding away at Mark Dendy?s choreography, and much singing recitative courtesy of a chorus of lurking dolphins. All is enhanced to no avail by Scott Zielinski?s intense lighting. Green Eyes (presumably matching the scenerybecomes infatuated with Juan (Anika Larsen), an abrasive white girl pretending to be a male pirate (with nary an apology to Gilbert and Sullivan). Her big and totally out-of-left-field number,"It's Really All Right With Me," sounds as if it had been pulled from a bottom-of-the-barrel turn-of-the century vaudeville turn circa Harrigan and Hart.
The talented cast is does its best to deal with this insipid material. Maynard, who was so disarmingly funny earlier this season in Altar Boyz, looks mostly distracted and disoriented by the dizzying farrago going on around him. Oliver fares better, but only because he has the better physique. Scant praise, I know. Butler and Freeman's principal duet "A Mother?s Prayer," sounds like a screaming match with each seemingly bent on obliterating the words. Unfortunately, the amplification makes too many voices sound like nails being scraped over a blackboard.
As for Tina Landau's contribution, one can only wonder what this otherwise talented director may have had in mind with this haphazardly structured musical. Her best bet would have been to send it back to watery depths. Here's hoping that she and Childs return stronger (but through no more portals) and better next time.
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