This freezing February pandemic winter, the Beck Center and the Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre program have united to offer five brief dramatic and musical looks to keep us busy. Each 15-minute production previews works created during the forced isolation endured this last year. Scott Spence (Beck Center) and Victoria Bussert and Matthew Webb (BW) are to be commended for allowing “the show to go on” despite having to go virtual this year.
One very good thing about the Beck Center video tickets is that they are good for 48 hours. Find a favorite? Watch it again. Can’t do that in a theater — at least not right away and on the same ticket.
More questions are asked in these short plays than answers are given, but they are important questions — and perhaps ones with no quick answers. All five musicals were winners in the recent National Alliance of Music Theatre (NAMT) challenge. The shows described below are in the order presented on the video.
In Monster on the Lawn, composer and writer Obed De La Cruz explores how a six-year-old, Ricky (played by Mateus Cardoso), might feel if he woke up and saw a whale-sized creature in his front yard. In effect, De La Cruz asks metaphorically what it would be like to leave everything (in this case, Puerto Rico) and flee to (what his mother sees as) a better place. Cardoso deftly sings and looks surprised as he reveals the little boy’s confusion and wonder. Director Jon Martinez and musical director Lindsay Miller utilize close-ups to cut down on scenery while allowing the melodic score to shine.
Holo, writer-composer Nico Juber’s two-person play (and my favorite), asks questions about mankind’s future on a vast scale and on a personal one. It’s set in 2189 at the Mars-based Elon Musk Museum where curator-receptionist Ember (Bryanna Cuthill) talks to young college student Kyle (Mackenzie Meyh). Kyle, now a hologram, has no idea she will later become famous and — worse —whether or not she will recover from COVID. It seems that Earth’s 2020-2021 pandemic has been remembered in a museum. Cuthill and Meyh create characters true to their times (and ours) in this charming and touching reminder of Groundhog Day. Director Ciara Renée and music director Matthew Webb show the vital importance of hearing and being heard — even on repeat.
White Man’s Burden, directed by Nathan Henry (with Ed Ridley, Jr. as music director and Webb as film editor), is described as “funny.” It’s anything but. This compellingly presented and darkly satiric mini-rock musical takes its story from headlines from the past two centuries — all detailing racist crimes. Eric C. Jones (book and lyrics) incorporates music by Joshua Davis to remind us of historic atrocities. The story is conveyed to three young and clueless TV watchers by Gordia Hayes as infomercial host. Hayes’ host uses the familiar pitch to buy CDs of what might be called “racism’s greatest hits.” The ensemble cast includes Dar’jon Bentley, Jack Hale, Brinden Harvey, Makay Johnson, JT Snow, Will Lamb, Zach Mackiewicz and Charles Mayhew Miller. It’s a slick, well-done satire not only of racism, but also of commercial packaging (and how just about anything can be pitched).
Rodeo Clowns by Dale Sampson (with music by Marc Campbell) satirizes clowns and rodeos and small towns. It’s directed by Sara Bruner with Webb as music director. Nick Cortazzo, Lee Price and Danny Bó tell the tale of two queer and eccentric fellows who decide to be rodeo clowns (a job not for the faint of heart). The country music score is all right, the actors gave it their all, but this musical somehow misses the mark.
Perpetual Sunshine and the Ghost Girls has a glittery title that belies its dark story. Written by Lynne Shankel (music) and Sara Cooper (words), it’s the first minutes of what will be a full-length show. That the story is true makes all the horror underneath stronger. Directed by Victoria Bussert, with Webb as music director, it teaches us via short conversations, dances and snippy, tick-tock collages why women sued the United States Radium Corporation in the 1920s for knowingly exposing them to poison. The excellent ensemble cast included Katelyn Baughman, Piper Bruce, Colette Caspari, Audrey Hare, Autumn Key, Jessi Kirtley, Alexa Lopez, Eden Mau, Claire Marie Miller, Andie Peterson, Lauren Senden, and Bella Serano.
Bottom Line: These five musicals are radically different, but all are socially aware. They each offer engaging 15-minute flashes of what may come next, in fully fleshed out versions, on post-pandemic musical stages. Can’t wait to see. (Yes, I have faith there will be a post-pandemic future.)
The BW/Beck production is a limited virtual engagement that runs through February 28 on any device. (Personal experience: The computer screen seemed ideal, casting to the TV didn’t work easily, and the phone screen was too small.) The Beck writes that ticket purchase provides 48-hour access to the shows allowing you to enjoy them all in one sitting or divide up your watching over a few days. Tickets are available here.
[Written by Laura Kennelly, published in CoolCleveland.com]