Park Square Theatre
THE BIG BULLY was getting in my space. Despite the pitch blackness, I could feel him next to me, inching closer. "Are you gonna give this a favorable review? You better," he threatened. "It's bringing back a lot of memories for me."
2-gether, a new musical from some of the Moore by Four gang, brought back a lot of memories for me, too--of being a sweaty little kid who thought adult life consisted wholly of longing for lost love. This revue of '60s and '70s soul and R&B tunes seemed to sweep the entire audience back to those days when gooey love songs formed an all-pervading soundtrack for American life.
Think of 2-gether's musical menu as a sort of Solid Gold Soul spread with a sprinkle of Kool 108, overlaid with a thin plot: Three heartsick couples sit around a diner, moping and fretting. Occasionally they throw down some attitude and joint-popping dance moves with the help of a live band. Like the DJs at Solid Gold Soul, musical arranger Sanford Moore is a walking library of R&B ephemera, digging up dusty old discs that never made it to the Billboard Top Ten (and certainly never get any play on white oldies stations).
The show gets off to a fairly sluggish start, with much head-shaking, fist-clenching, and floor-gazing: In short, a whole lotta Top 40 emotion. In fact, things really didn't take off for me until the fifth number, when Angela Joy took the spotlight to sing "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Standing still, letting go of her pop tricks for a moment, she filled that melody to the top with wistful promise and gave it new vitality.
Unfortunately, the spell was broken as the rest of the group joined her to finish the song. Joy and the others--Yolanda Bruce, Connie Evingson, David Fischer, Gevonee Ford, and Dennis Spears--are such mature performers, I wanted each one to have a song alone at the beginning to establish them as individuals. Besides giving us a chance to savor each artist, it might have made the early ensemble numbers more interesting. Spears gets this chance a couple of times, and steals the show with a jumpy James Brown cover. But overall, there's a bit too much group action, with white-bread, six-part harmonies that feel utterly funkless. More Al Green and any Marvin Gaye would have also helped matters.
Still, I was probably the only one in the audience with a complaint. 2-gether really isn't meant for my generation, anyway; it's for people who only need the songs to deliver them home. It's not about characters--like the bully said, it's about bringing back memories. If the edges have been softened, no one seemed to miss them.
LEE BLESSING MUST have been mighty pleased with himself when he came up with the conceit for his comic Hamlet sequel, Fortinbras. Prince Fortinbras (Jim Lichtscheidl), instant-king, takes charge at Elsinore immediately, dragging out the bodies and cleaning up the wine stains as he decides what he's going to tell the Danish masses. He's a lovable but shallow guy who couldn't care less about honoring Hamlet's dying wish that his story be told. But Fortinbras is soon set upon by the ghosts of the previous play's carnage, in particular the super-horny Ophelia (Carolyn M. Pool), who struts her stuff in white go-go boots and is said to be a succubus ("and a pretty darn good one too!" remarks Fortinbras).
None of the actors in Park Square's production fully lives up to play, however. My favorite was Christopher Hall as a dazed and confused Laertes who doesn't quite believe he's dead--too bad he only gets about three lines. Blessing's writing has a real rhythm to it, which most of the actors rely on too much, especially Lichtscheidl. Their readings lack the element of surprise so essential to comedy, which means, in short, that almost nobody was laughing. But no matter what, the play is still a one-trick pony. Yes, it's funny to dance on Hamlet's hallowed grave and get Ophelia hot and bothered. But the joke wears off soon enough, and whatever themes Blessing tries to examine--for example, the subjective nature of reality--get lost beneath the thrills of necrophilia.