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Lullaby is a musical that needs more music to find its soul

David Darrow as Craig and Adelin Phelps as Cassie

David Darrow as Craig and Adelin Phelps as Cassie

The main complaint people have with musicals is that they can't handle the bursts of song in the midst of "real life."

But if film audiences can believe that a man can fly, it's not much of a leap to embrace two people sharing their eternal love with a soaring tune.

Cassie is in trouble. Struggling to take care of her two-year-old son, she's been forced back to her parents' home. And she can't sleep. Three-hours-a-week can't sleep.

Worse, she sees her dead husband everywhere. He'd been a musical soul, constantly singing around the house. Now his spirit continues to do the same, pushing Cassie further and further into despair.

One night Cassie stumbles into a "dyke" bar, where its captivating co-owner Thea is on stage. Cassie has an idea. If Thea can teach her how to play guitar, she can share her husband's music with her son. Cassie hopes this soul-soothing act will finally let her sleep.

Thea, not surprisingly, thinks Cassie is looking for a date. She has recently broken up with her long-time partner and is also adrift. She lives out of a U-Haul, afraid to find a new place in case her old flame asks her back.

Once Cassie makes her reasons clear, Thea is on board. Their friendship blossoms, but Cassie's problems run deep — especially as we learn more about the circumstances of her husband's death and the anger she feels for her absent, alcoholic mother. Playwright Michael Elyanow gives us a work with a gentle soul, populated by characters that go beyond "grieving wife" and "jilted lover." The actors — especially sweet-voiced David Darrow as Craig, the late husband, and the tough-but-tender Annie Enneking as Thea — are excellent.

So why is Lullaby less than it could be? It goes back to the whole "play with music." The songs are fine and the performances engaging, but the scenes where a character just stands on stage and sings are dramatically inert.

They only come to life when Craig's specter follows Cassie. It's a breathtaking moment that finally welds the music to the drama.

Considering Cassie's tenuous connection to reality, more of this could have been done. A confrontation with her father thirsts for a song instead of shouty acting. A song that gets to the heart of their conflict could have been rare and beautiful.

That's Lullaby in a nutshell: a good story and solid performances shortchanged by a script afraid to embrace its own musical heart. 

IF YOU GO:

Lullaby
Ritz Theater
345 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
Through Feb. 7; 612-339-3003