August 15, 2021
What’s in a name? Simply, a witty romp of a musical
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
[title of show] delightfully, sassily pulls Carousel Theatre of Indianola back into the live performance ring with flair, finesse and fantastic performances. This innovative community theatre continues its nomadic ways, producing this show in the bucolic rolling hills of the Iowa landscape; La Vida Loca Winery, to be exact. This site offers a seductive allure, akin to “Hernando’s Hideaway,” adding an element of insider privilege for experiencing this musical in such a setting. Allow yourself plenty of time to ‘drink’ in this destination-worthy place – as well as its products, before, during and after the show. [title of show] only runs about 90 minutes, without intermission, so you’ll have plenty of time to expand your cultural exploration discoveries.
[title of show]is about life imitating art…imitating life imitating art. There’s a “Groundhog Day” feel to the convoluted story line, but nothing that left the audience dazed. Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell (book) created the ultimate play-within-a-play manifestation, an oft-used device used from Shakespeare on. Bowen and Bell bring a fresh take on this device, documenting their own journey of creating a musical for the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Add two friends, Susan and Heidi, and all the ingredients are there for a delightful show.
Director Alex Lindsley masterfully casts the four roles, and keeps the energy and pacing at an engaging ebb and flow. A pre-show speech imploring the audience to applaud and laugh wasn’t necessary, as the performances quickly drew spontaneous responses from the audience. Thanking sponsors and giving some recognition before a show is warranted, as this all-volunteer company thrives and survives on its benefactors and ticket sales. The reward for its audiences is in finding a gem of a show such as [title of show]. The spare requirements for this production fit this venue perfectly: 4 chairs and a black-draped backdrop.
Lindsley cast the lead duo – Jeff and Hunter – as a male-female duo (the real Hunter is male), a bold choice from the usual two guys. It works. Jay Jacobson brings a nuanced, more reserved Jeff in creative partnership with the extrovertive Hunter, given appealing energy by Andra Peeler-DiMarco. These two have great synchronicity on stage, working exquisitely together. Each has a strong singing voice and, like everyone in the cast, has the gift of delivering sometimes tricky lyrics in understandable, entertaining fashion. To miss any of the wit and storyline in this script from poor enunciation is not good, and each in this quartet delivers their songs and dialogue with marvelous clarity.
Rounding out the cast are Michelle Vaudrin (giving sass to her Susan), and Morgan Darrow (embracing a self-possessed perkiness in her Heidi). Their many scenes and songs weave effortlessly in and out of Jacobson and Peeler-DiMarco’s anchoring. All deliver. One standout moment in the show is Darrow’s “A Way Back to When,” a thoughtfully placed ballad for her velvety voice. While technically serving as the orchestra, the interactions with Sarah Reeves, the accompanist and as Sarry, dually as a gifted keyboard player and a fringe character, are great fun.
These four performers deliver a compelling ensemble cohesiveness, excellent song-styling, and movement with lots of well-defined pop. Their timing with each other shows their bonds. Pay attention, as the lyrics are filled with plenty of delightful zingers, spicing this stellar production. The 4th wall with the audience is an oft-breeched barrier, as the intimacy of this performing space lends itself to an immersive, wondrous theatrical experience.
This show is more than just an enjoyable journey into intelligent musical theatre. There are lessons to be gleaned, a kind of musical theatre allegory of chasing one’s dream and never giving up, friendship and loyalty. Much is captured in the closing “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” – if this show had an anthem, this would be it. With only three performances remaining, get your tickets now, as word will get out about this Carousel gem and tickets may become a hot commodity.
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