review: now. here. this.

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Now. Here. This.

Book by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell
Music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen
Directed and choreographed by Michael Berresse
Featuring Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jeff Bowen
Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street
March 28, 2012 — April 28, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
March 31, 2012

(L-R) Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

At the Vineyard for an extended few weeks, four forty-somethings sing and tell stories of misfit childhoods in various American outposts, evoking extended sequences of A Chorus Line (“Everything Was Beautiful at the Ballet” and “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love”) with new tunes such as the terrific adolescent-yearny “That’ll Never Be Me”.   A trip to a natural history museum takes us into the cosmos and into history, finding meaning through metaphors and memories and new exhibit information.  We are specks in the universe finding meaning with each other, finding our blood lines, findings our tribes. Misfit pain and stories of young adults finding their way to their people, their tribe, are the tidy construct for our quirky performers and song writers and make for this lovely new musical. Rather than live constantly distracted, we are encouraged to stop and to attend to the “now”, to just be “here”, to focus on “this”.

Jeff Bowen‘s tunes are presented in a book crafted by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell. The three creators are joined by a fourth onstage performer colleague Heidi Blickenstaff — who wins me with a single tune evoking the burning desire to perform developed at a young age — “Give Me Your Attention”. Our performers are themselves as performers and the stories they present on stage. (Again, the A Chorus Line call back as a story developed out of stories told by dancers then ultimately performed by many of the dancers whose stories were used during the development process.) There is an informal formality to this kind of musical construct. Themes have been gleaned and arcs refined and we are left with the sound of many enchanting songs and several truly moving monologues. Life, death, and parental misdeeds figure prominently.

Musicians directed by Larry Pressgrove fill the room (aurally) and never overwhelm the sometimes delicate lyrical constructions. Projections by Richard DiBella animate and illuminate this quirky and moving world. Director Michael Berresse makes efficient use of limited set pieces, and engaging choreography. Not every tune is stunning and some sequences seem a bit repetitive, yet we get to know each of these performers in layers and increments, and we feel richer for having spent time with them.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 9, 2012)

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