by Gretchen Wirges
There is a hopefulness about musicals that I love. They allow characters the perfect vehicle to release their hopes, dreams, love and loss. The song allows a heart to crack open and reveal itself, warts and all. SAPAC’s season/company opener, [Title of Show], accomplishes this not-so-easy feat in such a beautifully entertaining way. We not only get to see the warts, we also become privy to Wonder Woman, playbills, remote controls, Broadway call sheets, turkey burgers, and vampirish doubts that lurk on the insides of its dynamic characters.At first glance, I reveled in the simplicity of the set design. With just four chairs, and some well-placed windows, I was transported into working/living spaces in New York City. The basic plot involves two friends, Jeff (Andy Miller) and Hunter (Tyler Wright) looking to shake off their humdrum day jobs and television obsessions in order to write a musical for a festival. The story is a musical about musical in a musical festival. They enlist other friends Heidi (Mara Katrina Capati), Susan (Robin Bousel), and accompanist Larry (Brice Kimble). The hilarity that ensues is meta, full of pop culture, and a lot of heart.
The play, directed by Carson Wright, is incredibly witty, quick, and touching. It’s a story about friendship as much as it is a story about the creative process. The cast does a superb job in connecting and making us believe that they really care about each other. Wright especially impressed with his soaring voice, and his razor-sharp comedic timing. He has the ability to make the most subtle gestures and expressions that instantly bring the audience to fits of laughter. Miller, as Jeff, so deftly plays Abbot to Wright’s Costello. He delivers hilariously wry jokes with sincerity and sings perfect harmony with Wright.
Capati and Bousel, proclaimed in the script as “Secondary Characters” are anything but. Capati has the voice of a raspy angel. Her rendition of “A Way to Back Then” gave me chills and reminded me of my own childhood musings and dreams. Bousel delivers snarky sarcasm like a champ. Her witty one-liners were laser-focused and perfect. And her songs, most notably “Die Vampire Die” left me clutching my chest out of both laughter and poignancy. Both Capati and Bousel recently returned to Tucson. I couldn’t be more excited to see what they do next.
Larry (Brice Kimble) is a mostly unseen character who accompanies the musical numbers. The occasional moments where he pops up are hilarious and perfectly timed.
In a conversation with SAPAC director Dennis Tamblyn, I found out that this is considered the “clean version” of the script. The alternative version had more expletives and adult content. One of the elements removed from the clean version were any mention or innuendos of homosexuality. Tamblyn wasn’t happy that depicting or mentioning LGBTQ was categorized as “adult content”. He contacted the publishing company, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and said that he intended to do the clean version, but add those references back in. The publisher agreed that the categorization was antiquated and needed to be updated. This, my friends, is how we can continue to move theater forward. When we know better, we should do better. I’m happy that SAPAC chose to speak up instead of just relenting to seemingly bigoted delineation.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the script is without flaw. It isn’t. I thought the female characters got caught in the tired trope of female cattiness. They also lament about being secondary to their male counterparts. But the cast overcame that with the strength of their performances. It also doesn’t mean the production itself is without flaw, it wasn’t. I thought the transitions could have been smoother by continuing to underscore the blackouts between scenes. The abrupt changes to silence often halted the momentum and stilted the story.
All that being said, I left the theater singing Die Vampire Die, wanting to watch Wonder Woman, cursing Sutton Foster in solidarity, and daydreaming about being part of this show. The cast is a musical actor’s dream. And show itself is the contemporary musical lover’s musical.
[Title of Show] has four more performances for you love: 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 and 21, and matinees at 2 p.m. on Sept. 21 and 22. The show is playing at the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre at 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $25 Reservations/information: sapactucson.org, or by calling 261-0915.