Also see Fred's review of Women of Will
Playwright Nikos Tsakalakos was assisting BSC musical theatre lab artistic producer William Finn (Falsettos and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) three summers ago, having met earlier as Finn had been one of the young writer's instructors at NYU. Tsakalakos told Finn of his experience working poolside, complete with glitz, glamour and much more at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. It was Finn who coaxed Tsakalakos to write music and lyrics. Janet Allard, whom Tsakalakos knew from their time together as NYU students, came aboard to write the book for the show.
Pool Boy is hip, flashy and lively. Directed by Daniella Topol, it flies along. Three musicians, just beyond an archway in an alcove at the rear of the stage, are absolutely key to this production's success. Matt Castle, musical director, is on piano, Mike Pettry plays guitar, and Nikos Tsakalakos is the percussion section as he supplies rhythm on cajon (a box-like instrumenthands on wood).
The central figure of the play is Nick (Jay Armstrong Johnson), who serves drinks and supplies towels at the edge of the pool. Bare-chested Ms. Donna Duval (excellent Sara Gettelfinger), who needs men, quickly and unabashedly asks for his services. Her husband Rodney (John Hickok) is a record producer/mogul type. She is not all that physically taken, these days, with Rodneybut Nick would be some catch. Nick, an aspiring songwriter, realizes that Mr. Duval might be his ticket to greater heights. Meanwhile, April (Cortney Wolfson), a young actress, appears on the scene. It's apparent that April and Nick have eyes for one another. Donna scornfully proclaims, later on, that April is, by L.A. standards, fat.
Mr. Lopes (Cliff Bemis), a seasoned employee, is attempting to manage the Bel-Air but the place is owned by The Sultan of Nubai (Sorab Wadia) who is swanky and hopeful that he, rather than Nick, will show April a good time through world travel. Rounding out the cast of characters and lending some comedy is Jack (Jon Norman Schneider), a chef who is thought to be but is not Japanese.
The opening title number immediately begins the evening with a charge. Johnson, youthful and sweet-voiced, is a physical and high-energy actor who is also disciplined. Other first act highlights include "Pimp Ass Party," "She Swims," and a lovely duet between April and Nick called "I've Never Felt This Before."
All of that said, the initial hour is just a tad inconsistent, and here is one educated guess that it becomes even better as the run continues. The second, shorter act outdoes the first.
"In the Muck" (think of rhymes here) is a vibrant, full company tune. "Playing Tennis" features Duval and Nick on either side of the stage. Never do they eye one another. Instead, each swings a tennis racket to punctuate lyric lines. Director Topol and/or choreographer Shonn Wiley should receive credit for the positioning.
Mortal Kombat, the fighting video game, figures into the plot of the musical. It's import will not be revealed here.
It's fun to witness this enthusiastic and vigorous production. One discerns that a group of people have put minds, artistic selves, and physical talents together to make it happen. (By the way, costumer Holly Cain's appropriate and sometimes revealing wardrobe choices should not be overlooked.) On opening night, at least, it was fitting to feel a part of the group process. That both Julianne Boyd, BSC Artistic Director, and William Finn came on stage together to introduce the production was welcomed, suitable and special.
Pool Boy continues at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through August 8th. For tickets, call the box office at (413) 236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.
- Fred Sokol