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A CurtainUp Review
Once Around the Sun
by Eric Beckson
The cast delivers standout performances. Some of the best musical talent in New York can be found on stage at the Zipper Theater, a renovated zipper factory in the garment center. The engaging songs are written by Joe Shane and Robert and Steven Morris, of the Morris Brothers Band. The book is by Kellie Overbey. Jace Alexander, director, brings considerable experience and imagination to the production.
As the title suggests, the story covers one year in the life of the lead vocalist, Kevin. His experience is a familiar one. As a standout talent, he must decide whether to remain loyal to his struggling band (The B-Side) or seize the opportunity for individual stardom. After the band hears the saddest two words a band can hear, "Arista passed", Kevin makes the obvious choice, despite the fact that his girlfriend is a member of the band he must leave behind.
Along the Icarus-like journey, Kevin and his uncle, Lane, have a heart to heart. Lane's own bid for singing stardom was set aside when he became the guardian of his nephew following the fatal car accident involving Kevin's mother. Having sacrificed his dreams to fulfill an unwanted responsibility, he survives by playing hack gigs and drinking heavily. As he explains to Kevin, "I wasn't born in a Tuxedo singing Hava Nagila."
Yes, the horror, the horror. It's no wonder that Kevin flees to 'the coast' where he hastily signs one of those insidious, 'gotcha' A&R contracts. Shackled to the worst stereotypes imaginable, Kevin nevertheless delivers. But fame and fortune are not what Kevin imagined (no surprise here either). After being tossed around like a medicine ball, he must reevaluate his commitments and recommit to his values in order to preserve himself.
The cast is solid throughout. Asa Somers, a former Whiffenpoof and East Village rocker, brings with him considerable musical theater experience. He is very musical and likeable on stage, although at times wooden. Mr. Somers is tall, handsome, and youthful--in other words, a perfect rock and roll musical lead.
Caren Lyn Manuel as Skye, Kevin's girlfriend, possesses a very delicate and beautiful singing voice as well as the waifish figure you'd expect to find in the East Village. She also exhibits a variety of strategically placed, oversized tattoos (gasp, can they be real?) and looks great in a wife beater.
Maya Days plays Nona: diva and music biz executive with designs on Kevin. Her operatic voice and regal disposition make her a credible siren Kevin cannot resist.
John Hickok, as Lane, delivers a first rate musical performance with a very refined singing voice. His phrasing is especially skillful, and his timing impeccable. His acting is always convincing and he is also very funny as the besotted bandleader telling jokes at the Bar Mitzvah.
The B-Side Band of Jesse Lenat as Dave, Wes Little as Richie, and Kevin Mambo as Ray is a supporting cast of talented actors. They double roles later in the show. Kevin Mambo is particularly entertaining as a Hip Hop star with the hit single G-I-R-L (no other lyrics!).
The Zipper Theater is a large enough space for the big sound of a rock band as well as a split level stage with two upper platforms. Early on, the upper left serves as a men's bathroom where The B-Side musicians lounge between sets. I was surprised to see (for the first time in my theater experience) the inside of a men's bathroom on stage. Drawn curtains later obscure this set so the traumatic memory of the actors taking turns at the urinal fades. Odd that real marijuana is smoked (we can smell it) while in other scenes, characters pour and drink air rather than a liquid that at least resembles booze.
Other scenery is equally economical and surprising. To depict a couple lying down on a bed, a slide of a bed is projected onto a large screen while the actors stand in front of it. The screen is also used to create concert images and in one sequence, a very corny music video of Kevin's big hit (he's at the beach singing into the surf).
Lighting by Jason Lyons adds realism to many scenes, such as the energetic opening performance by The B-Side as well as the music awards ceremony. Costumes are adequate and appropriate, never anything distracting or fancy.
At the end of a year, having gained and lost, it's not clear what Kevin has learned, if anything other than the sacrifices sometimes required to move a career forward. One can certainly criticize the book for its thin characterizations, unrealized subplots, and clunky dialogue. It is the musical performance that makes the show worthwhile. I am not moved to buy the soundtrack, but I would see the show again.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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