Friday, September 23, 2011

Sunny Side

You have to forgive me not writing (ok, you don’t have to, but I ask you to), but I’ve had so much reading to do. A review of “Keep on the Sunny Side” came out in the T-D yesterday and also in the Progress-Index (signaling the premiere I believe of actress-icon Una Harrison as a critic).

Reviews of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” showed up at GayRVA and on WCVE (or John Porter’s blog). JP’s rave about “Lend Me a Tenor” – complete with a general endorsement of farce -- aired last night while my “Tenor” review was oh-so-eloquently dismissed as a “book report.” Those anonymous commenters – they’re so insightful!

Also out there to read up on has been the previews of “Merchant of Venice,” which I’m looking forward to this weekend. This promises to be a production unlike any other “Merchant” you might have seen before and it’s in a new space for Henley Street, two significant endorsements for sure.

I promised to talk about “Sunny Side” but I won’t go on too much because Ms. Haubenstock expressed most of my thoughts for me. The heart of her review includes the phrases “historically interesting,” “musically delightful,” and “limp drama.” I think that encapsulates the show for me. The voices musical director Drew Perkins leads through the Carter Family canon are all excellent – I think I would have loved this show if it had been just a tribute concert. But I don’t think it works great as theater. There are a few too many “…and then this happened…” kind of transitions and not enough meaty interpersonal business to work through. This weakness was not helped on the night I saw the show (the last preview on Friday) when there were numerous lines of dialogue either dropped or repeated.

But there were unmistakably magic moments, too, most of them when stage novice Jackie Frost was given room for her voice to reach its full-throated glory. I was introduced reluctantly to old time music decades ago by my lovely wife and have since come to appreciate the simple beauty of Carter Family standards like “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow” and “Worried Man Blues.” Most of the songs are delivered with energy and clarity by gifted musicians like Emily Cole, David Janeski and Lucas Hall. Multi-instrumentalist Ms. Cole should think about a putting a concert together; I know I’d go.

Each of the cast members has his or her strength. Mr. Hall has a great scene to really chew some scenery as Dr. Brinkley and he makes the most of it. As I’ve expressed here before, I adore Ali Thibodeau’s voice and she kicks off the show with a great take on “Will You Miss Me?” But since she’s playing one of the next generation Carters (Janette), she doesn’t get as much front-and-center performing time, which is too bad. Mr. Perkins does a fine job as the somewhat drifty patriarch A. P. Carter, though I think it’s a curious challenge to give a focused performance of a distinctly unfocused character. Still, at the show’s end, his transition into the elderly A.P. is subtle but distinct.

One of the things I will remember most about this production is the gorgeous set. Director Tom Width has outdone himself with this set design, with a big assist from Adam Dorland and his vibrant scenic backdrop, not to mention the typically lush lighting by Joe Doran. The rendering of a log cabin’s front porch looks so cozy it’s hard not to want to join the cast on stage and spend some time working the rocking chair.

Susie also mentioned “historically interesting,” and I have to admit that one of the first things I did when I got home was Google the Carter Family. It was also great to see the neat YouTube clip that Emily Cole found of the real Sara and Maybelle Carter introduced by Johnny Cash. So, while it may not have invigorated me with dramatic intensity, “Sunny Side” certainly provided some diverting songs and a sparked interest in a slice of music history.

If your bent is historic, you have two shows opening this weekend that should appeal, the previously mentioned “Merchant,” plus “Simply Heavenly” at Sycamore Rouge, which is grounded in the historically significant stories of Langston Hughes. If you just want comic drama, “Becky’s New Car” out at the Tavern may be a better choice. Regardless, there is kind of an embarrassment of riches on local stage right now. What better way to spend a rainy weekend then at a show or two, no?


emily j. cole said...

Dave, if I ever do a concert, you'll be the first to know! :) Thanks for the kind words.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Umm...can I be second? And soon?