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Vanishing Point
American Stage

Vanishing Point
Lauren Wood, Kathleen Brooke Davis and
Victoria Adams Aischke

American Stage in St. Petersburg has just finished presenting Vanishing Point, a musical in development; music by Rob Hartmann, book and lyrics by Liv Cummins and Rob Hartmann with additional lyrics by Scott Keys. This production was ill fated when the actress playing Amelia Earhart developed serious vocal problems and dropped out, necessitating the cancellation of multiple performances while an actress who had previously played Agatha Christie in another production was brought in to cover the part. I saw the production at the very last performance, and Patty Nieman gamely played the role with script in hand, used mostly for dialogue. In spite of this drawback, she gave the strongest performance in the cast of three.

The premise of the musical is that three ladies of long ago—Agatha Christie, Aimee Semple McPherson and Amelia Earhart—all disappeared for a period of time with no creditable explanation. Ms. Christie disappeared for 11 days in May 1926 while in the midst of marital difficulties, Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared in December 1926. (I am currently reading an autobiography of Milton Berle and in this book he lays claim to having a short lived affair with Ms Semple McPherson by name, so perhaps it was for a romantic tryst that she disappeared.) Ms. Earhart disappeared while on a flight in July 1937, and neither she nor her plane has ever been found, so it can possibly be assumed that she crashed and died.

The authors set up each of the ladies, tell us something about their relationships with those closest to them, and have them interact with each other for dramatic purposes. It is an interesting conceit. As presented at American Stage, with a cast of only three, the actresses portraying leading characters are forced to cover the parts of secondary characters in other leading characters' lives. This puts a huge strain on the actresses, as they have to weave in and out of their main roles and it takes the edge off their central performances. Two males playing all the secondary male roles, or better yet, two males and two supporting females, would make the piece more effective and clear, but perhaps out of budget for small regional theaters.

A musical, especially a chamber musical lives or dies with its score. The score to Vanishing Point strikes me as generic modern musical theater, without strong focused songs that might help in differentiating the three ladies. With the exception of a quasi Gilbert and Sullivan patter number with several reprises for Agatha, it is difficult to keep the ladies separate with out visuals. Where are the gospel tinged numbers for Aimee and soaring anthems for Amelia to help characterize each of them? Still, the music drives the action and emotions the way its supposed to do in a musical.

Kathleen Brooke Davis as Aimee Semple McPherson cut a formidable figure as the evangelist, strong and assured. She was also excellent in scenes with the character's mother and other important figures in her life, demonstrating the public vs. private person. She was vocally strong. Lauren Wood, a Sarasota favorite, was a bit underpowered as Agatha Christie, at least vocally. It is probably true that Ms. Christie, at least in the early stages of her life as an author, was nowhere near as self assured as the others, but Ms. Wood was difficult to understand, especially in her patter numbers when she was trying to hold together a British accent. The director should have advised her to use the accent sparingly, enough to let the audience know her origin but not enough to bury her lyrics. Still, she did an excellent job in conveying the author's overall character as written here. Late addition Patty Nieman as Amelia Earhart was strong, self-assured, and sang with great strength. She conveyed the cocky confidence of an aviatrix who was no where near as skilled as she wanted to believe she was. This character gets the best from the authors and received a performance worthy of that.

A large piece of the success of this production must be credited to Music Director Vince di Mura. The strong vocal performances of all three ladies were among the most effective elements of this production. His playing and pacing of this score were also major plusses.

Multiple level sets by Nick Francone provided an effective playing area. I wish director Kara-Lynn Vaeni would have used it more cohesively, keeping important settings always in the same place on the set. All other technical elements were strong.

It is always exciting to experience a work in progress. This show might be good for community theaters or regional theaters with a bit more resources to provide additional performers.

American Stage Theater Company's Vanishing Point, May 30 through July 1, 2012, at the Raymond James Theatre, 163 3rd Street North in St. Petersburg. For more information, visit americanstage.org.

Cast
Agatha Christie: Lauren L. Wood
Amelia Earhart: Patty Nieman
Aimee Semple McPherson: Kathleen Brooke Davis

Direction: Kara-Lynn Vaeni
Musical Direction: Vince di Mura
Scenic and Lighting Design: Nick Francone
Costume Design: Adrin Erra Puente
Production Stage Manager: Karla Hartley
Assistant Director: Amy Burgess


Photo: Roman Black


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