'Deal!' has a weak hand, but isn't ready to fold
Putting your family's story onstage for all to see is a dangerous game, and not just because you may air dirty laundry that others would rather keep in the wash room. The closer a creator is to the material, the more difficult it may be to get separation from the events, and to find the best, most dramatic way to tell the story.
That's the main trouble in Deal! The Musical, which is in its world-premiere production at the Ritz Theater. Tom Broadbent mined his family history for the show, and found a lot of good material there. How he and co-writer Jerry Seifert brought it to the stage isn't nearly as engaging as it could be.
Set in Stacy, Minnesota, between 1958 and 1968, the play follows the lives of Broadbent's grandparents, their friends, and his own parents. Much of it is organized via weekly poker games where the different characters get a chance to unwind from the various stresses that dominate their lives.
And to their credit, the playwrights don't sugarcoat this. Times are tough for the family through these years, with money a constant worry. There is also the center conflict between mother Elsie (Laurie Flanigan-Hegge) and daughter Julie (Aly Westberg), who rarely see eye to eye, with the conflict continuing even as Julie suffers from breast cancer.
The story's wide stretch of time -- 10 years is a long time to portray onstage -- diffuses some of the natural drama, as does an overall lack of focus. Is this Elsie and Julie's story? Or that of Art (Jon Andrew Hegge), a natural-born farmer driven into town by the bad economy and then crippled in an accident? Or of Oscar and Millie, the uncle and his girlfriend with serious drinking problems? I'd vote for the first, but there are still songs detailing what these characters are feeling throughout the second act, just keeping us from the confrontation between Elsie and Julie that the audience is truly thirsting for.
That's not to say there isn't plenty of good here. Broadbent's songs play with plenty of different styles and provide some real memorable moments, such as the opening "Deal Dammit" or Art's angry and hopeful "Harmon Killebrew." The eight-actor company is strong throughout, while the direction by Joshua James Campbell keeps the action moving forward at a strong clip.
Deal! The Musical is certainly not a bad show, it's just not the show it could be.
IF YOU GO:
Deal! The Musical
Through May 5
345 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis
For information, call 612.436.1129 or online
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