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|A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
Stephen DeRosa as Manny the Muon (with Muonite ensemble) -- photo Amanda Treyz
Production Notes and Song List
The word quark takes its origin from a passage in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. If this sounds like something high brow and too inaccessible for you, let alone the kids in your family, relax. Quark Victory is the lightest, brightest and most entertaining musical to hit the Berkshires -- or any place else for that matter.
The quarks of the title are the protons and neutrons at the center of the atom so add the cutting edge element of a science background. How fitting for the first Williamstown Theatre Festival presentation at the thoroughly modern new Museum of Contemporary Art's (MASS MoCA) large and comfortable Hunter Center for the Performing Arts. If, on the other hand, the show's billing as a family musical has you wondering if this is strictly a tag-along-with-the-kids affair, wrong again. When the talented Reale Brothers first put on this show a decade ago for the 52nd Street Project it was a strictly for kids show and was, in fact, performed by children. But with the inevitable rewrites and the support WTF, Quark Victory now boasts a cast of twenty-two, including seven Equity actors with top Broadway show credits. To name just a few:
Wilson Jermaine Heredia who won a Tony for his portrayal of Angel in Rent; Jessica Boevers who originated the role of Philia in the Broadway revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Karen Ziemba whose musical credits include a Drama Desk Award for her work in Kander and Ebb's And The World Goes Round; and that master of costume and persona quick-change, Stephen De Rosa (The Mystery of Irma Vep) who in the spirit of "summer time and the living is easy" here limits himself two hilarious parts and costumes. (My Saturday Afternoon Live interview with Stephen will be posted shortly).
To see any of these and the other main performers on Broadway would set you back at least $60 a ticket. For one fourth of that you can now see them all in one swoop.
The show has been given a real Broadway treatment -- Michael Brown's two level set is appropriately high tech, as is Jeff Nellis' lighting design. Mimi O'Donell has outfitted the quirky quarky characters in splendidly glitzy and amusing costumes. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography seems made to order for the Reale brothers' bouncy score which includes eleven songs played by a seven-piece band.
While the psychedelic costumes at times suggest an animated Disney film in the making, the story of teenaged Samantha Fitzwater's (Jessica Boevers) journey from the real world of her parents' troubled marriage (Karen Ziémba and John Hickock) to "inner space" is a cross between Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. This modern day Dorothy/Alice, is the daughter of a scientist as much in love with his work as his family (his excessive devotion to work is the crux of the marital conflict). Like Dorothy and Alice she encounters many colorful characters on her journey through the sub-atomic world -- among them her father's lonely but neatness-obsessed colleague Russell (David Wohl); Scooter, the quark she falls in love with (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), and the not so villainous Manny the Muon (Stephen DeRosa).
Filled with stars as this big little musical is, this is very much an ensemble work. Karen Ziémba, for example has just one big number, as does Jane Bodle. While I liked the music in both acts, and was particularly struck by the intelligence of the lyrics, the shorter second act has the "drop dead" most likely to be remembered longest songs and routines -- the touching "Being Different" and the side-splittingly funny "The Muon Voodoo Swing" being the standouts.
If you go to MASS MoCA early enough to look at some of the installations, you'll see several made with disposable. Quark Victory echoes this nonchalance about permanence. The care, talent and production values lavished on the show belie it's very limited run. My guess is that the investment made will pay off with life after MASS MoCA. But don't take a chance on that maybe. If you're in the area, go quarking in North Adams while you can.