Angela Walberg, Gabriele Angieri, Bruce Abas, and Annette Kurek.
Photo courtesy Upscale Theatre Productions
Junk Song is obviously a labor of love. Meg Lambert spent years writing the musical, employing her composer brother, Tom Cowgill, to write songs and her director niece, Becka Linder, to bring the piece alive onstage.
At present, the show is a mess. There are good songs, story elements, and characters here, but the overall shape of the piece is confused, weighed down by a first act that takes too long to get going and a tone that doesn't quite find the balance between tragic and comic. Toss in a couple of bum singing performances, and you have an evening that is as much frustrating as it is entertaining.
Lambert's story centers on Lucy and Noah, a struggling middle-aged couple weighed down by their respective baggage. Noah's baggage is quite clear: He's a hoarder who can't bear to let go of any of his precious items, thinking that they all will be useful in his ultimate dream: racing in the Iditarod in Alaska.
Lucy's own troubles are more on the inside. She feels trapped by her marriage, and is still henpecked by her overbearing and boozy mother, May. She finds some comfort in her friendship with Tom, who is also Noah's best friend from youth.
The action is set over two days at Noah and Lucy's garage sale. While an agreement is in place on what to sell and not, Noah continually finds items in the sale that he can't bear to part with and hides them behind a sheet where his "treasures" have been stored away and not to be sold.
Lambert's script has plenty of heart and some insight into what makes the dysfunction tick here, but the pieces of the show don't sit well next to each other. The play's first act takes plenty of time to get going, especially as the central conflicts here are fairly straightforward. More time spent at the actual garage sale, and the oddball characters that haunt them, would buoy the show's humor without shortchanging what's going on beneath it all.
The 10 performers do good work on the acting side, led by Annette Kurek as the overbearing mother May and Gabriele Angieri as Noah. Kurek also brings a good voice to the proceedings, excelling on her solo numbers.
Angieri struggles mightily to stay on key when alone onstage, as does Bruce Abas as Tom. They fair better in the ensemble numbers, which showcase an energy and complexity missing when the stage clears for one character to sing about the plight of their life. Angela Walberg gives some depth to the emotionally lost Lucy, but her singing style isn't a good match for the rest of the company.
In the end, Lambert has too many ideas going on at once here. The show wants to be a biting satire, a heartbreaking drama and a commentary on American consumer culture all at the same time. There are too many loose ends in story, characters, and songs, to make Junk Song the piece it could be.
1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis
For tickets, visit here. For more information, visit the Upscale Theatre website.