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Lost

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Inverse Theater's production of Lost is dedicated to Jessica Grace Wing, a member of both Inverse's performing company and board of directors, who composed the music to this show and died just weeks ago. There can be no question that Wing's contributions to the show are significant and quite memorable, with nearly every aspect of the production doing her proud.

Wing's music is by turns soaring, landlocked, ethereal, and even scary, an ideal blending of sounds for the fairy tale world of the show. Lost, which puts a modern spin on the oft-told tale of Hansel and Gretel, succeeds where it does because of Wing's soulful, theatrical composition. Highly emotional ballads, near-occult ceremonies, comic character numbers, and even incidental tunes (such as the ghostly caterwauling which opens the show) create the perfect atmosphere for a world that is much like ours in some ways, and frighteningly unfamiliar in others.

Wing is not always ideally matched, however, by the show's librettist and lyricist, Kirk Wood Bromley. Particularly in the first half, Bromley's lines and lyrics are often obvious, mired in excessive exposition and surface emotions. Yet, when challenged, he comes through - his work later in the show matches Wing's melodies perfectly, resulting in songs that carry the story and the emotions it generates to another level.

By then, Lost has firmly established itself as a coming of age tale, covering the confusing and often painful period between adolescence and adulthood. The central characters who must find their way through this metaphorical forest must also find their way through a real one; Gabby (April Vidal) and Hanlon (Ted Malawer), while traveling through the woods with their father (newly married to an evil stepmother), lose their way. When their father goes to find help, they're discovered by a mysterious doctor, Laborious (John Schumacher), who takes them to his home deeper in the woods.

There, they meet their "new" stepmother, Mamba (Molly Karlin), who not only loves taking in children who have been abandoned by their parents, but is desperate for the immortality their fresh, unsullied bodies can provide. She's stolen, among other things, the guts (or courage) of a former Civil War soldier named Silas (Adam Kemmerer) and both the hands of a young girl named Ivy (Jenna Rose). It's not long before Gabby and Hanlon find themselves attracted to Silas and Ivy, though they, too, are targets for Mamba's nefarious schemes.

Rob Urbinati's direction makes the show a pleasure to follow, despite entanglements of plot and character that tend to mirror the menacing trees and undergrowth concocted by scenic designer Jane Stein. (Stein also devised a number of clever puppets that seem to expand the 16-person cast by another dozen or so.) Jeff Nash and Karen Flood have supplied the appropriately spooky lights and costumes, and Valerie Berke Sciarra's musical direction and arrangements (for a four-piece band) could hardly be better.

Nor could most of the cast. Vidal's Gabby is superbly sung and cunningly acted, while Malawer well captures Hanlon's buttoned-up qualities. Kemmerer and Rose richly embody the somewhat sketchily-drawn love interests, while Schumacher's opera-weight voice balances out the show's vocal sound nicely. Only Karlin is a bit underpowered, in terms of voice and personality, in her role - she layers Mamba so much, there's little of the gleeful touch-of-evil quality present in many of her lines. Youssif Eid, as a white fawn with a secret, is eye and ear-catching, while the ensemble is fine across the board.

While much of Lost is unlikely to prove timeless, Wing's music is so varied and fine that it deserves to live on in her absence, as a memorial to a talent and a voice lost too soon. In the show's final moments, as Gabby and Hanlon are faced with death and growing up, Wing's music is of such passionate intensity, one can't help but wonder if she were composing her own musical theater funeral mass. If that's the case, it's all the sadder she's gone, though she gave herself one heck of a send-off.

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Inverse Theater
Lost
Through August 23
Linhart Theater, 440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor
Schedule and Tickets: 212.420.8877