Sometimes pleasant is quite fulfilling.
If you’ve read this blog, you’ve probably ascertained that I’m drawn to shows that tell good stories, reflect intense human experiences, and are well written, acted, and directed. I like intensity on stage, often. On paper, THEY WERE YOU is not my typical taste. It’s all songs – most of which I’ve never heard before – in a classic musical theatre style that to which I don’t feel much connection.
Luckily, “on paper” isn’t reality.
Aubrey Berg has cast six CCM musical theatre students, all diverse in their type, to perform the music of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. Best known for THE FANTASTICKS, this prolific duo also wrote shows like 110 IN THE SHADE, THE BONE ROOM, and many others. Under Berg’s direction, the catalog of songs is arranged thematically. His team includes not only the talented cast (Emily Celeste Fink, Michelle Coben, Aria Braswell, Stavros Koumbaros, Karl Amundson, and Gabe Wrobel) but also musical director and arranger Steve Goers and choreographer Katie Johannigman. Together they have all created a magical night of theatre.
The cast is excellent. Coben stands out during numbers like “Little Red Hat” and “Fifty Million Years Ago.” Her comic sensibility balances well with her beautiful singing voice. Amundson is a terrific overall performer as showcased by his work in “Rain Song” and “Be My Lady.” Wrobel’s deep baritone voice adds texture to the vocal harmonies and I liked his work on “Feet Upon the Ground” among others. Braswell’s strong soprano stands out especially during “Goodbye, World.” Koumbaros, while mostly having to sing at the low end of his range, does a nice job – especially with his acting – during “Orphan in the Storm.” And when he gets to display his upper register, he is excellent.
But its Fink who steals the show throughout the evening. Starting with a bawdy, bold performance of “Raunchy,” she also shows a tender strength during the beautiful “Love is Not a Sentiment Worthy of Respect.” She reminds me of a young, modern Rosemary Clooney and I predict a very successful career ahead of her.
Berg keeps the two-hours of music moving along, while creating some very nice stage pictures along the way. Johannigan’s choreography is fun, logical, and adds a layer to the show that it would lack otherwise. And Goers’ arrangements are beyond beautiful; the addition of a second piano (played by Luke Flood) adds a nice touch.
THEY WERE YOU is a pleasant evening, showcasing our cities finest musical theatre talent. Why there were rows of empty chairs for a FREE night of theatre this good remains one of life’s great mysteries. Call the box office to get a ticket and if it’s “sold out” go waitlist. You’ll very likely get in. You’ll definitely leave feeling just a little lighter.
THEY WERE YOU plays through Sunday at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in the Cohen Studio Theatre. Tickets are free but do go quickly. Call 513-556-4183 for more information.