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|A CurtainUp Review
By Brad Bradley
Piper’s Song brings audience expectations to a high level at the start, with one of the zestiest musical beginnings since The Lion King exploded on 42nd Street. The first ten minutes are entirely musical, and are splendidly evocative. The wittily robotic "Run on Automatic" puts a new-age How to Succeed. . . \ spin on the "jobs we hate" and its follow-up, the title tune, perfectly sets up the world of the homeless, which becomes the central "other side of the coin" in our story
Although most of the show’s book scenes sag into predictable and overwritten melodrama (a typical line is "You have no idea how lucky you are"), this show has considerable appeal. It really looks like a potential winner, if only the libretto can be reconceived, substantially released to an expansion of the often wonderful score, and finally infused with the sense of humor that the glorious opening promises.
John Ryerson’s score not only is exciting in general, but also, as performed by a stunning band of five, is a cornucopia of musical texture. Ryerson’s own uncredited orchestrations and musical arrangements and Jamie Fox’s musical direction infect the show with a rich tapestry of energy and emotion that includes pop, Caribbean, and blues influences, as well as musical theater. Unfortunately, song endings too often fail to end with a "button" to allow the audience to participate with applause, and the ending is formulaic and unfinished in addition to being depressing. But such limits are repairable. May Mr. Ryerson and his team find the time and the support to give his show another shot. Even now, much of his music winningly suggests a musical that might have resulted in a hypothetical 21st century collaboration by Brubeck, Bernstein, and Ellington, all of whom found the musical theater intriguing in varying degrees.
Director Susan Streater has assembled a stellar cast that works well together, even in the overlong book scenes, effectively conveying the communal and sometime anarchical life of the streets, recalling hippie-era shows such as Hair, Promenade, and Runaways as well as the current Urinetown -- all good musical company for reaching a wide and varied audience. Ms. Streater’s selected choreographic efforts also work well, although additional such spots would benefit the show.
As our hero, Steven Young, Shawn J. Davis is convincing in a complicated and enormous acting role, yet sometimes seems vocally ill-matched for his songs. Perhaps additional performances will overcome this problem. The supporting cast is large and talented, with Stephen Hope (Didi), Marilyn O’Connell (Mary) as mentally challenged homeless folk, standouts who shine not only in their brief solos, but also in every moment they are seen. The production’s most impressive performer is MarthaVelasquez as Anna, essentially the leading lady. She matches Steven’s humility and sensitivity with an upbeat personality in her too-limited on-stage time, offers a warmly intoxicating alto, and even rises above her banal dialogue. Brocton Pierce as the narrator, called "the Piper," has a strong musical presence, but his unexciting material fails to warrant titling the play after this generally amorphous character.
Scenery is minimal but effective in a minimal venue, and the costumes are apt and efficient. Overall the production values are effective in a show that shines best in its music and its performances. If the script can be brought into focus, and perhaps a new title offered, what now is Piper’s Song may become a song for the masses.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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