Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires


Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

A Little More Alive
Barrington Stage Company


Van Hughes and Michael Tacconi
Barrington Stage Company brings Nick Blaemire's musical A Little More Alive, a sharp, bittersweet pop-rock 95-minute journey, to the St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, through August 8th. The east coast premiere of a piece that was staged by the Kansas City Repertory in Spring 2014, the BSC production, directed by Sheryl Kaller, includes three cast members from the Kansas City presentation. Barrington Stage's Musical Theatre Lab, guided by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and Artistic Producer William Finn, seeks to present exciting, evolving, new shows. This one is a perfect fit for that description.

Actor Van Hughes, playing Nate now (as he did in the midwest rendering), opens by singing "Pot at a Funeral." It is the day after his mother has passed away, and he is distracted, upset, and wondering. At the age of 29, he did not make it through college and has been home for some time. His younger brother Jeremy (Michael Tacconi, also reprising his role) is on the metaphorical corporate wheel, constantly taking calls on his smart phone, and is often agitated. Their father Gene (Daniel Jenkins, the third member who has moved with the show) is attempting to keep his composure but really hasn't the capability to assist with his sons.

Relatively early on, we meet Lizzie (Nicolette Robinson), a hospice worker tending to the recently lost mother, Maggie, who was, evidently, an adored school teacher. Lizzie's inclusion is important and lends depth. The other character is Molly (Emily Walton), an enthusiastic spritely soul who appears later on.

Around 30 or so, Blaemire (also a noteworthy actor and singer) wrote book, music, and lyrics for A Little More Alive. His tunes are catchy, sometimes bold storytellers, and tough to sing. Each member of the current cast is adept with numbers that demand significant vocal range and versatility. Blaemire's gifts are abundant.

Growing up in a Washington, D.C. suburb, the brothers are oh so different. Nate has been floating, trying to find himself, while Jeremy, three years younger, is an economic riser. Suitably grainy images (home movie style) from their childhood are projected from time to time and provide back story. One sees Maggie during her glowing prime and the boys when they were, well, younger boys.

Nate makes a discovery as he explores his mother's belongings: she had a lover, and the communication was extensive and lengthy. Jeremy will come forward with a revelatory contribution. The crux of the play is: what to do, whom to tell, how to proceed. Ultimately, Nate, Jeremy, and Lizzie, hoping for closure or resolution, head for Vermont. They grapple with moral, ethical, and personal issues. Call this daunting.

A Little More Alive is also about memory and, in this regard, evolves as a human musical about a woman who was cherished by many. Flashbacks, as depicted on video, bring to the current day moments from the 1990s and following years. Early, Jeremy sings in "Remember it Differently," "Nightly dinners, baseball cards, pickup games in neighbors' yards, growing up wasn't hard, so goes the movie" and during the final stanza of that tune, "It takes a little bit more than some folklore to make us a family. You gotta be sure of your story before you make it a memory. You're home in your home movie but we remember it differently."

The moving finale, "I Miss," features Gene, Jeremy, and Nate. The husband recalls his wife while the sons think of their mother. Those singing alternate and overlap on that number. Kaller's direction here, as elsewhere, is pinpoint. Vadim Feichtner's fine musical direction, too, should not be undervalued. He coordinates a five-piece band, including his own presence on keyboard.

This is not an easy show for actors. Affecting, complex harmonies require considerable talent and touch. The compositions are demanding and each of the BSC performers is up to the task, together providing a neat blend. The inclusion of the young women is key. These characters add depth and different voices. The conclusion of the play feels, while observing, abrupt but, upon reflection a day later, might be appropriate.

The playwright's compositions and orchestrations (by Charlie B. Rosen) at Barrington Stage Company recall some of the music from Rent. No, not in terms of content, scope, scale of the show and so forth. When two or three of the actors combine on vocals, this can be exquisite.

Thus, A Little More Alive, which begins with in-your face guitar and vocal delivered by Van Hughes, is charmingly imperfect. During its hour and a half, the show pushes ever forward and moves its audience through a complicated and oftentimes poignant past and present.

A Little More Alive continues on Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through August 8th, 2015. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.


Photo: David Fertik

- Fred Sokol


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