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|A CurtainUp Review
Under the Bridge
Though written some thirty years ago and set in 1952, homelessness is hardly a dead social issue so it's easy to see why Kathie Lee Gifford thought this book had the makings of a timely book musical which would appeal to its core audience (middle graders) as well as their older siblings and parents. Unfortunately what works on the page doesn't always translate easily to the stage-- especially in the form of a musical. And while Ms. Gifford has been faithful to the source material, Under the Bridge suffers from a confused identity. It's too much of a young kids' show to appeal to adults and older kids, and it's not quite exciting enough to keep the kids energized.
While not without charm, the story of three half-orphaned, homeless redheads (a brother and two sisters, whose father died suddenly and left them and their mother destitute) comes across as too derivative of other stories with adorable orphans, noble parents and a kind-hearted curmudgeon. The trouble is that there's not even a moment's doubt that Armand (Ed Dixon) is more hero than villain. The adventures around Paris never match the excitement of Scrooge learning his lesson through ghostly intervention. and three orphans, though well portrayed by Andrew Blake Zutty, Maggie Watts and Alexa Ehrlich. simply aren't as distinctive as Annie's title character and her fellow orphans.
My young co-critic, Jack Sommer, aged 11, found the end of the story easy to predict. When I asked him if he liked the music better than the story, he replied "Wasn't the music everything? "
Indeed, there's no shortage of music, so much that the show often feels sung-through. Director Eric Schaeffer does his best to keep things moving and to insure that the songs are smoothly integrated with the dialogue. He has actors use an aisle and the area in front of the stage but this doesn't overcome the fact that the Zipper stage is too small for much movement or dancing. The closest thing to a big, lively production number is "This Is the Gypsy Life" which is understandably reprised in the second act. Generally though, songs are presented with the singers statically grouped as for a still life painting.
The almost twenty songs are melodic even if most don't convey that catchy something to make a youngster likely to want to learn to sing more than a few songs from the CD that's already available -- most likely Suzy, Evelyne and Paul's one solo, "The Marriage of Lady Tartine." and the peppy "Half a Dream" they share with Armand.
Essentially the kids are accessory characters for Ed Dixon's Armand, Florence Lacey as Mirelli the upbeat Gypsy and semi-romantic interest, and Jacquelyn Piro as the children's proud mother --with Armand and Madame Calcet the characters taking the emotional biggest journey. The actors portraying the key adults all bring solid musical experience to their roles and are well supported by an ensemble that handles multiple roles with ease. Thursday Farrar and Tamira Hayden are especially fetching in their roles as the Do-Gooders with their vocal talents showcased in "Do-Gooder Lament."
Though set in Paris, don't expect much of a Parisian flavor. In fact, except for some of the lyrics, and a single French accent (Ed Dixon's), this could be a spot under the George Washington or Queensboro Bridge.
Overall, the youngsters who were heavily represented at the holiday matinee I attended, were attentive but somewhat subdued. The Zipper is a fun theater. It's housed in what was once a real zipper making factory and many of the seats have been scavenged from old automobiles. It's an atmosphere that somehow promises a zippier experience than this well-meaning little musical delivers.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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