Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
It is generally assumed that successful musical theater writers will eventually have a revue of their songs created and performed, and Broadway's Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens are certainly worthy. With five New York shows and an Academy Award nomination under their belts, this Tony Award winning team's first revue, We Tell The Story: The Songs of Ahrens & Flaherty, includes not only their most famous songs to date, but also hidden gems and tunes from upcoming projects. The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) presents the world premiere of the show as part of their 2002 Hot Summer Nights theater program.
Director Richard E. Hess asked CCM graduate Flaherty for permission to create a revue based on the pair's work, but the team offered instead to write the show themselves. The result is a thrilling musical journey through themes of beginnings, discovery, longings, children, celebration, love, and much more. A significant amount of material is pulled from the duo's most well-respected works, Ragtime and Once On This Island. However, songs from Lucky Stiff, Anastasia, My Favorite Year, and Seussical are also included. In addition, material from yet-to-be-produced shows A Man of No Importance and The Glorious Ones is likewise heard. The show is an effective mix of solo and ensemble numbers that give credence to the wonderful reputation that the pair has obtained as theatrical songwriters. Flaherty's memorable and emotional music creates soaring ballads and spirited anthems that produce chills for many a theatergoer. The lyrics by Ahrens are extremely well-crafted and ideal for storytelling. Bringing the finest examples of their body of work together in one revue is truly a delight to the ears.
Performing this show is an exceptionally talented group of young performers. Each has ample opportunities to shine and prove up to the task. Ashley Brown showcases her powerhouse singing through renditions of "Journey To the Past" and "Back To Before," along with a suitably controlled version of "Times Like This." Sweet voiced Geoff Packard delivers emotionally charged performances of two newer songs ("Love Who You Love" from A Man of No Importance and "I Was Here" from The Glorious Ones), as well as a praiseworthy "Larger Than Life." Angel Reda displays remarkable stage presence and captivatingly graceful dancing throughout. Her endearing rendering of "Shoes," a cut song from Lucky Stiff, is also a highlight. Conveying consistent maturity and a fervent delivery of "The Streets of Dublin" (another from the upcoming A Man of No Importance) is Leo Nouhan. Jasmin Walker puts her strong vocal prowess to good use in "Mama Will Provide" and ""Til We Reach That Day", and Keldon LaVar Price provides likewise confident and passionate singing for the wonderful anthems from Ragtime, "Wheels of A Dream" and "Make Them Hear You." The reliable Matt Risch poignantly sings "If The World Were Like the Movies" and "Our Children." Providing constant enthusiasm is Julie Kotarides, a compelling character actress who demonstrates a pleasant singing voice in "Waiting For Life."
Director/Choreographer Hess matches the brilliant sounds of the revue with many interesting visuals. As the songs and themes change, the tone of the piece is altered to correspond. Smart choices in delivery maximize the impact of songs and quick (yet fitting) transitions between the nearly thirty-five numbers maintain the audience's attention. In addition to performing, Reda also developed the bright choreography for the high-energy opening sequence. The dances and movement provided by Hess for the rest of the piece are apt and lively, and highlighted in "Speaking French", "Shoes", and "What A Game."
The set design by Mark Halpin includes various scrims that are revealed behind a large sundial that dominates the back of the performance space. Other minor drops and pieces are used to good effect. The primary costumes by Rebecca Senske are eye-catching, and amusing extras are used skillfully for many tunes. James H. Gage supplies a varied and active lighting design.
We Tell The Story: The Songs of Ahrens & Flaherty is a worthy first revue for this talented writing duo. Their wonderful songs, along with a first-rate cast and solid direction and design, produce a delightful musical celebration that local audiences should be sure to catch. The show continues in repertory with Lady Day At Emerson's Bar and Grill and Violet through August 18, 2002. For tickets, call (513) 556-4183.