Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of The Call
Eric Price provides book and lyrics and Joel Waggoner the music. Joseph Wartnerchaney's illusions grab attention and Marc Bruni (who directed Beautiful: The Carol King Musical on Broadway) is at the helm for Presto Change-O.
We meet Sheldon (Lenny Wolpe), who was a magician of note. Now, however, he has suffered a minor stroke and his aging process encroaches. Yet this patriarch retains his expertise at special times. The action takes place in the New York City apartment where Lance (Michael Rupert), Sheldon's son-in-law, lives. It has been quite some time since everyone came together in this locale. Designer Derek McLane places colorful posters indicative of past magic episodes on the walls. Lance was once a glitzy, handsome magician but that was more than a decade ago. Now he dreams of a return to glory. Tina (sweet, welcoming Jenni Barber) is Lance's housekeeper who reveals that she, too, wants in as a prime-time illusionist. While much of the plotting occurs during the present day, there are important forays into the past.
Lance's son, with whom he has had zero connection, is Michael (Jarrod Spector). Michael's choice is to shock audiences with his endurance stunts which push the human body to an extreme. Mary (Barbara Walsh), his mother, left Lance years ago. She now sells real estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, but has returned to tend to Sheldon, who sometimes seems in need. One might have thought that the casting was already complete, when Arthur (Bob Walton) enters well into the production. Brother to Lance and adorned by costumer Alejo Vietti in a bold Hawaiian shirt, he has an eye for the commercialas in the possibilities associated with cruises.
Vadim Feichtner, one of five instrumentalists who are not seen, directs the music, a lively and essential component. Waggoner's music is catchy and Price's lyrics meaningful. Early on, "One, Two, Three" features Wolpe, Rupert, and Spectorthree generations. The duet "Block of Ice," with Barber and Spector combining, is lovely. Everyone except Arthur is singing on "No Condition." Jenni Barber is solo on "Ta-Da!" as she gives notice of her own aspirations. The second act opens with the entire company excelling with "All the Broken Pieces." Barbara Walsh takes center stage as Mary with the title tune, "Presto Change-O." Rupert's Lance and Spector's Michael, as father and son, follow with "Magic Is Magic." One feels the show might have concluded before all return for "Who Would Believe?"
Suffice to say the music stretches actors who are very much up to the difficult task. Waggoner's melodies include atypical harmonies which are invitingly fresh. They demand practice, agility, and vocal discipline. The roles require versatility. Tina, for example, at first seems to be cute and sweet and part of the overall scene. Price layers her character and she proves to be richer than that, a woman with further dimension. Mary, on the surface, might have moved on with her life. However, she becomes drawn to those who were close and the storyline affords her the opportunity to demonstrate another side.
The ensemble for this presentation is energized. Wolpe, adept with his role as a man somewhere in his twilight, finds an earlier self. He is grappling with his capabilities both as magician and human being. Spector, Barber, and Walsh elevate the performance bar and Rupert, who probably has the most demanding of parts, succeeds.
A musical with a focus on magic, this play utilizes illusion as entre to explore much more. Director Bruni zips things forward but takes time for more touching moments, too. The proportions are in fine balance for this world premiere.
Presto Change-O continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through June 11th, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.