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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Australia has sent us some wonderful talent. Last season we had the epic Cloud Street (Our Review). Earlier this season there was Andrew Bovell's Speaking in Tongues (Our Review) and that play's film version, Lantana (Our Review). Now the York Theatre Company has brought us the New York premiere of Prodigal, a new musical by two talented twenty-three-year-olds, composer Mathew Frank and librettist/lyricist Dean Bryant.
The show's story is an update of the biblical story of Luke the prodigal son. Dean Bryant's Luke (Joshua Park) is the son of Harry Flannery (David Hess),the owner of a fishing business in a village named Eden in New South Wales. Even though he loves his dad and mom (Alison Fraser) Luke as a closeted gay boy finds that Eden falls short of its name. Unlike his loutish and envious brother Kane (Christian Borle) he is bright and sees a scholarship to the university in Sidney as a chance for a life that will allow him to grow and be truer to his real self. Dad Flannery wants Luke in the business and when he hands him the keys to his own car on his eighteenth birthday, Luke turns on the ignition and drives off to Sidney. He makes two new best friends: Maddy (Kerry Butler), a sort of Australian Sally Bowles; and Zach (Christian Borle deftly morphing between this gay druggie and the country bumpkin brother) who becomes his first lover. When Zach turns out to be neither a good friend or devoted lover, Luke heads home and, after some angry misunderstanding and tragedy, the family, aided by Maddy, has an inevitable redemptive reconciliation.
This rather predictable and old-fashioned bible popera is told through an appealing score, a mix of traditional show music and pop tunes. As usual, the York's artistic director James Morgsn has assembled a cast of proficient musical theater performers. They sing the songs beautifully and though all five are American they manage to sound Australian.
Joshua Park and Kerry Butler are outstanding as Luke and Maddy. Park, whose acting and vocal powers have matured impressively since I first saw him in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is a likeable performer. He handles his character with conviction and shifts effortless between spoken and sung passages. Butler, the teenaged Shelley from Bat Boy, once again proves herself to be a solid performer with a soaring voice. These two should be paired again.
The composer himself is on hand to do honors at the piano. Though Mr. Frank is an excellent pianist who knows his music well enough to play without a score, such one-man band accompaniment tend to make one ache for just a few more musicians. Prodigal is no exception, especially given the super simple production values. A corrugated backdrop, some chairs, a table and a yellow kangaroo crossing sign are all we get to suggest the idyllically pretty little fishing town of Eden where the Flannery family lives and the city of Sidney to which their prodigal son Luke drives find his true self. Even the birthday cake baked for the play's first pivotal plot turn, Luke's eighteenth birthday, is left to the audience's imagination. Similarly, the critical event leading to Luke's reconciliation with his family, has the comatose Luke sitting up in a chair rather then on some sort of bed.
Having seen a number of York musicals I've come to expect somewhat peppier staging. Mr. Morgan, who apparently took over during rehearsals as director from the previously announced Victoria Pero, has also done little to keep Alison Fraser and David Hess, the Flannery parents, from often look ing as if they werereading from a script, so that the production at times feels like a staged reading.
The York is to be commended for bringing these two young collaborators to the attention of New York theater goers. Like their main character, who tried to do it all, this enterprising musical duo's future is likely to gain full-throttle altitude once they focus on their music and let someone else do the story.
Some other York Theatre musicals we've liked:
The Show Goes On
The It Girl
Exactly Like You
Little By Little
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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