By Jennifer L. Gusso
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission
I am one of those nine people. This is the only way you start a review about [title of show] while making an obscure reference to [title of show], which is Harford Community College Actor’s Guild’s latest offering, Directed by Lizzie Detar, Choreographed by Jessica Auguste, with Music Direction by Dominic LaFrancesca. [title of show] is definitely a unique experience that takes a different twist on the original musical. It is “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.” There is something absurdist about the construct and yet the characters are real, compelling, and relatable. There are also a lot of really cool inside jokes and inside references for true theatre geeks laced throughout.
The intimate black box space is ideal for this show. You feel like you are there in the living room, hanging out and experiencing the creative process with these characters. By the end, you really feel as if they are old friends. For the most part, the decision to not use microphones also works with creating this mood; however, there are a few times when soloists are lost under the keyboard and a better sound balance could have been achieved. The most noticeable incidences are in “An Original Musical” (where Hunter should be powering above the music) and “A Way Back to Then” (in which it would nice to see the keyboard softer to match Heidi’s intimacy). Overall, especially when the cast members unite in the many harmonies of the score, the sound balance works well for the space.
What is so engaging and endearing about this production is the way that everything really feels spontaneous. Director Lizzie Detar and Choreographer Jessica Auguste have done an impressive job of creating staging and choreography that looks beautiful and is clearly carefully designed and yet also appears spontaneous and like it is being improvised in the moment. This script just wouldn’t work if anything came across too canned or too rehearsed or too much like “acting,” and Detar clearly recognizes that and keeps it at the forefront of her vision.
The actors have also clearly internalized this necessity. As a group, their reactions and interactions always feel genuine and spontaneous. The chemistry and the unity of the performers is also solid, as it is almost difficult to talk about each of them individually. The characters and the scenes are so interconnected, and none of them are ever pulling focus from the others. Still, each of them creates a unique and individual character.
Morgan Tacka gives a brilliant performance, even as she is playing an actress playing this character of herself who is self-admittedly not really much of an actress. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is; still Tacka makes all of those realities come to life at once in a well-developed and very real performance. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the always over-the-top Heidi, and yet Katie Pendergast makes her also very genuine without losing any of the pizzazz. These two women complement each other perfectly in these two contrasting roles.
The same is true of the very believable friendship and partnership between Hunter (Samuel Walton) and Jeff (Justin Strittmatter). Walton gives an incredibly endearing performance with subtle ease, while Strittmatter emotionally connects with the audience in a more playful manner. With Walton, genuine delivery garners laughter, and, for Strittmatter, it is impeccable timing. Together, their voices blend beautifully and their personalities mesh seamlessly.
Even with these four amazing performances, there are moments when it seems like Larry (Dominic LaFrancesca) might just steal the show with his fabulous one-liners delivered from behind the onstage keyboard. The stellar harmonies and vocal stylings of the cast throughout also show LaFrancesca’s excellent work as the Musical Director of this production.
[title of show] is a strong and cohesive production. The cast is dynamic and genuine. The concept is fun and funny and original. The space is perfect. The characters?/cast?/ both? ultimately decide that they would “rather be nine people’s favorite thing/Than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.” With a production as wonderful as the current offering at HCC Actor’s Guild, it is more than worth deciding for yourself if you are also part of the nine.
This is what I thought of Harford Community College Actor’s Guild’s [title of show]… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
[title of show] will play through February 17 at Harford Community College, 401 Thomas Run Rd, Bel Air, MD 21015, Joppa Hall Black Box Theater. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or you can purchase them online.
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