To begin their 2002/2003 Studio Series, the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) has unfortunately chosen to present the off-center musical Promenade. Though helped greatly by the college's seemingly never-ending supply of talented student performers and strong production values, the show is unable to rise above its unsalvageable premise and script.
Promenade had a successful run Off-Broadway in 1969. The vague story follows two pleasant convicts who escape from prison and happen upon a group of self-absorbed socialites. The convicts observe as the four couples trade lovers and mistreat their hired help, as well as each other. The two men are befriended by one of the servants, and the three happen across a confused mother looking for her lost children. Following a war, all of the characters meet at a party. The convicts are locked up again, after the jailer who has been seeking them finally finds them.
This musical is not meant to be a literal linear story. With a book by Maria Irene Fornes, the characters and situations are supposed to be metaphors for something else. However, extracting tangible meaning out of the show is nearly impossible. Social and political commentary, along with some morality lessons, surely are intended and may have been more clearly evident when originally presented during the era of the Vietnam War and the turmoil of the late 1960s. Nevertheless, when viewed today, it is difficult to understand any message within the show. Without the meaning behind the mess, the lack of any backstory and undeveloped characters provides little to enjoy.
The lyrics for Promenade are also by Fornes. Like the dialogue, the words to the over thirty songs do little to add meaning to show and are often repetitive. The music by Al Carmines is better. The pleasant and melodic tunes often border on operetta, and are enhanced by some gorgeous vocal arrangements.
CCM's students rarely disappoint, and Promenade is no exception. Rising above the material to the best of their abilities, the talented cast of sixteen provide wonderful singing vocals and charismatic performances. As the prisoners, Danny Percefull and Blake Ginther blend their voices with beautiful results. Sarah Jane Everman proves to be an impressive triple-threat as the Servant. Even though they portray either shallow lovers, crazed politicians and mothers, or lowly workers, the other performers do well and are likewise deserving of mention: Neal Shrader, Gina Restani, Jackie Vanderbeck, Lindsay Pier, Geoff Packard, Kyle McDaniel, Keldon LaVar Price, Danny McNie, Kristi Villani, Kristine Reese, Michael Parrish DuDell, Melissa Bohon, and Cassie Simon. If nothing else, this experience will prepare this young cast to be professionals even when faced with performing in a show unworthy of their talents.
It is difficult to say whether director Michael Burnham could have brought clarity or understanding to the piece, given the written text and lyrics. Praise is given for a quick pace, smooth transitions, and for effectively maximizing the comedy with the piece. The choreography for the show is bright and fun as provided by Sarah Jane Everman and the rest of the company. A four-piece band is capably led by Matthew Phelps.
Designer Joshua Minter uses the studio space very well, with staircases and the two levels of the stage put to full use. Various other attractive set pieces are brought in or lowered from the ceiling to likewise serve the show successfully. Other production elements such as lighting (Mat Stovall), costumes (Amethyst Tymoch), and wigs/make-up (Magan Lanham) are also well rendered. The sound design by Peter Shiplet for Promenade is the best yet at this venue (aided by the decision to finally use microphones for some of the performers).
Despite worthy performances, direction, and design, CCM's production of Promenade is unable to overcome the piece's muddled story. Audiences will surely find much more to enjoy in the next two shows in the Studio Series, A New Brain and Songs For A New World. Promenade was presented October 24 - 26, 2002.