Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Mesa Community College

Also see Gil's review of The Brothers Size

Angelica McGrew, Jordan Woollen, Jesse Thomas Foster, Rachel Heitkamp, Kinsey Peotter, and Brian Robertson
I don't know what you were doing when you were 19 but I definitely wasn't writing a collection of songs that within ten years would go on to receive over 200 productions around the world and launch a career that would include a Tony nomination for Best Original Score for the hit Broadway musical A Christmas Story. But that's just what composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul did when they were students who were bored after being cast in small supporting parts in their college's production of City of Angels. With a lot of free time on their hands they decided to start writing songs. The story songs they wrote became the song cycle Edges which just received its Arizona premiere this weekend from the Mesa Community College. While this song collection isn't completely successful it does show two gifted song writers at the beginning of their career and the MCC production featured some talented singers and was another successful directing venture from Jere Van Patten.

Edges is a contemporary musical about a group of young people who are pursuing their dreams and navigating through relationships while realizing they are afraid to be not only who they currently are but also who they want to become. Through almost twenty songs about two dozen characters sing about their emotions, feelings and situations. A wide range of topics are covered, most centered around relationship issues, including being afraid to love or unable to commit and experiencing the pain of both breakups and absent fathers. The songs represent various obstacles young adults encounter and cover themes that everyone has had some experience with so the songs do resonate. Surrounding the heavier numbers are a collection of comedic ones that provide humorous takes on various life situations. Pasek and Paul have crafted some interesting songs, though the majority of the tunes are heavy handed ballads with lyrics that, while good, could be better. The opening number "Become" is quite effective and is reprised a few times throughout so there is some continual flow, but some of the songs are disjointed and completely standalone, so there is still a bit of an issue of not having a clear through line of the show. Also, most of the songs the women sing deal with romantic issues while the men in the show get ones about their dreams, families and impending parenthood. It seems a bit one sided and obvious to only have the women singing about their relationship problems but when you remember that these guys were just 19 when they wrote the songs, you have to cut them some slack. Fortunately the music for the songs is very good, with varied musical styles and shifting chords in some of the songs and the duo, trio and ensemble numbers feature some rich harmonies.

Van Patten has assembled six fairly talented singers to portray the various characters in the show. All were given many moments to shine and most pulled off their duties admirably. It's a fairly intricate and demanding score and while all six vocalists provided an abundance of energy and assured acting abilities to bring both the dramatic and comical lyrics to life, several members of the cast strained a bit to navigate some of the higher notes and a few times stumbled a little on some of the faster, more intricate lyrics.

Kinsey Peotter was the best of the group. In both her take on a questioning girlfriend in "Lying There" and a woman with commitment issues in "I've Gotta Run," her splendid voice always managed to ensure the meaning of the lyrics was stressed through her vocal and acting abilities. Jordan Woollen's voice has rich, deep tones and he and Angelica McGrew delivered a charming, sweet and humorous "I Hmmm You" about a couple afraid to say "I love you" to each other in case the other doesn't feel the same way. McGrew also soloed on the very funny "Man of My Dreams" with her hilarious facial expressions echoing the funny lyrics about a boyfriend who might be perfect but for all the wrong reasons.

Jesse Thomas Foster brought an appropriate intensity to his songs, especially during "I Once Knew" but also added a nice element of humor in his duet with Brian Robertson, "Pretty Sweet Day." Robertson excelled in his solo "One Reason," about a man literally on the edge and thinking of jumping off, as well as the duet "Dispensable" he sings with Rachel Heitkamp about a couple not sure if they want their relationship to end which is appropriately mirrored by the longing looks they give each other. Heitkamp also was effective in the touching "Perfect" as well as the bitingly funny "In Short" about the feelings one has for their ex after a horrible breakup.

There were also some nicely delivered trios including the men singing the inspiring "Boy with Dreams" and the women delivering the uplifting "Ready to be Loved." All delivered the comical "Be My Friend," a song about the addiction of Facebook, with glee as well as both the moving act one and closing numbers "Coasting" and "Like Breathing" that finds the six no longer afraid to be who they are and the people they want to become.

With Dori Brown's perfectly simple yet detailed set comprised of six small, separate areas each with its own color theme, director Van Patten had plenty of areas to stage the songs, which he did quite effectively. Always ensuring to add various props and new costumes to indicate the change of characters for each song, Van Patten's direction of his cast was quite successful. He also added some nice touches, from Foster delivering a pizza to Robertson as a way to connect their characters in "Boy with Dreams" and some simple but fun choreography in "Man of My Dreams" and "Be My Friend," he added plenty of varied touches to each song to make then succinct and not all blend together. Cathy Hauan's music direction was exceptional, ensuring the six vocalists all harmonized effectively and also providing some excellent keyboard playing. Troy Buckey's lighting design worked well to highlight the specific individual singing and Aurelie Flores' costumes were a never ending parade of designs that tied in perfectly to the various characters. My only issue with the production elements was that while the three piece band was mic'd none of the actors were which meant there were many times during some of the quieter songs that the singers were overpowered by the band.

In the nine years since writing Edges, Pasek and Paul have gone on to write the scores for the Broadway adaptation of A Christmas Story, the off Broadway musical Dogfight, contributed a few songs to the tv show Smash and in 2005 won the Jonathan Larson Award for aspiring composers. They clearly are talented composers who have a long future ahead of them and Edges, while not a perfect show, does have a few effective numbers and is an interesting way to see where they started out. MCC's production of the show had excellent direction and gifted musical direction and was a great venue to see some gifted singers who will also most likely have long futures ahead of them.

The Mesa Community College production of Edges ran September 25 —27th, 2014 at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa. Information for their upcoming production of Hairspray can be found at

Music & Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Producer: SueAnne Lucius
Directed by Jere Van Patten
Music Directed by Cathy Hauan
Set Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Aurelie Flores
Lighting Designer: Troy Buckey
Hair & Makeup Designer: Melody Stuart
Stage Manager: Stefan Jorgensen
Jesse Thomas Foster
Rachel Heitkamp
Angelica McGrew
Kinsey Peotter
Brian Robertson
Jordan Woollen

Photo: Jere Van Patten

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix