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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

An A-Team Cast Trumps the Material in
Village Theatre's Chasing Nicolette

Chasing Nicolette
Matt Wolfe and Nick DeSantis
One of two shows in this season's Village Theatre line-up chosen from the half dozen presented in the "Village Originals" New Works festival of 2008, season-opener Chasing Nicolette with book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg and music by David Friedman, is, beyond a doubt, a great showcase for an able and tireless cast of performers. Steve Tomkins found just such a cast, and the show relies heavily on their abilities, and on an expert production design team to transform this rather middling musical into a solid two-hour entertainment.

Chasing Nicolette is based on an anonymously authored French medieval romance, Aucassin and Nicolette, set in 1224 and charting a tumultuous love match between Muslim princess Nicolette and Christian count Aucassin. Kellogg and Friedman decided to tell their version in verse; that conceit works perfectly well, and Tomkins' able ensemble deliver it as to the manner born. The problem with the material is one of a decisive tone. When Chasing Nicolette is at its best is when, as in the opening "Modern Times" number, it promises a sort of Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum frivolity, complete with a fool/narrator Valere to help sort out the plot points. But when it goes dreamily romantic, as it does in a few too many rather ordinary romantic ballads, the piece stands still, and I found myself thinking (another Sondheim allusion, I know) "send in the clowns."

Radiantly lovely and vocally skilled Taneesha Ross gives a committed, heartfelt performance as the title character, who is sadly imprisoned away from her dashing swain Aucassin (played by charmingly feisty Matthew John Kacergis) for about half the show. You can feel actress Ross' delight when her character escapes captivity and passes herself off as a male Troubadour. Ross and Kacergis sing their big love duet "Now and Forever" with the sort of grace and vocal gusto that served Rodgers & Hammerstein ballads so well back in the day, but the song remains stubbornly earthbound. Yet, give resident knockabout Valere, impishly embodied by reigning Seattle comic prince Nick DeSantis , a comic turn on "You Have To Lie", or a smashing Hope & Crosby flavored vaudeville duet opposite the marvelous Matt Wolfe as Montescue, and the show takes wing. As Nicolette's father the King, Timothy McCuen Piggee's always commanding voice thrills us early on as he laments his long lost daughter in "Nicolette", but the character is often absent thereafter, till he is allowed a true act two showstopper, "Sing to Her," opposite her rather doltish intended Nemur, played with a comic twinkle by Brian Demar Jones.

Allan Michael Barlow glowers and schemes with mastery as Aucassin's controlling father Count Beauclaire, who conspires to keep his son from wedding Nicolette, preferring a religion-appropriate match with the chaste Gwendolyn, played by Jessica Skerritt. The sparkling Miss Skerritt, who is developing into quite the leading lady, shows impressive vocal prowess in her entertaining back-story number "I Was Raised in a Convent", and teams tantalizingly on the show's one really notable ballad, "If You Were in Love," opposite Miss Ross. Eric Polani Jensen is an amusingly mustache-twirling baddie as Count Valence and takes part in the show's (and DeSantis') funniest number, "Do What You Will," in which Valere's arms appear to be stretched out of all proportion on a torture device. Rounding out the cast with her own comic zeal as a rather novel Nun is the invaluable Kate Jaeger. Though director Tomkins' celebrated choreographic skills are not much called for in this kind of a show, the bigger musical numbers are as fleet-footed and ingratiating as one could ask.

Set designer Scott Fyfe, from his smashing show curtain to a marvelous turntable-centered central playing area, takes the show effortlessly and handsomely to all its varied locales, augmented by Tom Sturge's limpid lighting design and costume designer Melanie Burgess' richly textured and imaginative apparel. Musical direction by R. J. Tancioco and use of a small, able group of musicians is unusually satisfying, and veteran Seattle musical whiz Bruce Monroe has provided quite lovely orchestrations for the production.

Chasing Nicolette runs through October 25, 2009 at Village's Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, then moves to Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett, October 30 - November 22, 2009. For more information got to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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