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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Sheldon (Lenny Wolpe,) the aging and charming patriarch, is one of the last old-time magicians who knows his craft is an art form as old at least as the scenes of the cups and balls illusion painted on tombs in ancient Egypt. It is, as far as he knows, "The oldest magic trick in the world." Sheldon seems to have a problem with the disappearing red ball which he cannot recover at will and which signifies that something has happened to his sense of reality as he retreats further into fantasy. This places an extra burden on daughter Mary (Barbara Walsh,) now a real estate agent, that her adored father is failing
She was once married to Lance Presto (Michael Rupert) and is mother of Michael (Jarrod Spector) and we learn through a series of flashbacks about the personal and professional betrayals which tore the family apart. Lance is now hoping for a comeback of his defunct career. His young housekeeper Tina (Jenni Barber) just happens to be spellbound by the allure of prestidigitation and dreams of making a life for herself, not as an assistant but as the star who creates "Ta Da!"
Michael, the son and grandson of these conjurers, has taken to making his living performing extreme endurance challenges a la Harry Houdini and has seemingly just survived a bout in a frozen cubicle. Arriving at his estranged fathers dark mausoleum, seeking help, he meets the young and nubile Tina who calls on mom and grandfather to get him out before Lance sees him. Of course, everyone meets up and amidst the acrimonious reunion the past is revealed and they are somehow magically reconciled.
The songs by Price and Waggoner examine the dreams of each character as well as underscoring the incidents of the past which created the familial rift. Many of the songs are tender and interesting such as "One Hand to the Next" as the words are heard clearly and advance the story line. Others, such as the big number "No Condition," sung by the five main characters, are over-miked and impossible to understand. So, even though we get the gist the pleasure of discerning each characters words is totally drowned out by the others. This seems to be the problem of the current musical theatre . Not only is everyone miked, but they overlap each other to a shrill discordancy. However, that is just one piece of the show that has much to recommend it in terms of entertainment value.
The set by Derek McLane is an extremely solid, old paneled Manhattan apartment with fantastic vintage posters and ads for famous magicians of the past. It is replete with hidden doorways and interesting collections of arcane objects which invite the audience to enter and be amazed. It is what one might imagine a magician would surround himself with, but in a few seconds, with a little puff of fog or change of lighting, this versatile set is transformed into a nightclub or whatever else is required by the script. Abetted by lighting designer Ken Billington we are transported back and forth in time and reality.
Mark Brunis adept direction helped move the cast fluidly through some of the cumbersome contrivances of the script which could use a little sharpening if it is to move on. After all, that is what Barrington Stages Musical Theatre Lab is for – to polish and propel its artists forward.
Until then, this is a show for adults and children to enjoy, with brisk dance moves by choreographer Chris Bailey and terrific magic tricks, which all of the actors had to learn along with their roles. It is a sweetly nostalgic summer stock production which should delight all family members.
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