Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings along
This song by the 1960s group The Mamas & the Papas closes Theatre Latte Da's production of the play with music, Beautiful Thing. It's a beautiful and hopeful ending to the show and really gets to the heart of what it's all about.
Beautiful Thing tells the story of two teenage boys in a working-class neighborhood of London who fall in love. Jamie lives with his single mother who works at a pub, and is struggling to fit in with his peers who think he's "weird;" even his own mother tells him that. Ste lives next door with his abusive alcoholic father, and sometimes takes refuge at Jamie's place when things get too bad at home. On the other side of Jamie lives Leah, who has been kicked out of school and spends all her time listening to and singing along with the music of Mama Cass. She's a bit of a jerk, but it soon becomes apparent that she's lonely and struggling to find her place in the world, just like the boys are. And when Jamie and Ste find their place in the world through each other, it truly is a beautiful thing. Jamie's mother is upset when she finds out about the boys' relationship, but comes to accept it. She may not be the best mother (at one point literally rolling around on the ground with her son as they fight), but she loves her son and does the best she can for him. We never see Ste's family, but from the way they're talked about it's hard to believe they'd be very accepting. I like to believe he somehow escaped from their orbit.
Beautiful Thing reminds me a little bit of the movie Billy Elliot (later turned into a stage musical): a young boy from a working class family in England finding himself in an unconventional way. But while Billy falls in love with dancing and his own artistic expression, Jamie falls in love with Ste, and is able to figure out who he is through that love.
Because this is Theater Latte Da, there is music in this play, and the music conveys what mere words cannot. Erin Schwab embodies Mama Cass and walks through the scenes, singing and bringing to life the songs in Leah's head, accompanied by the fabulous band hidden below the set. Before seeing this show I was only marginally familiar with The Mamas & the Papas, and even less so with Mama Cass. She is a fascinating character herself, and yet another incredible voice who left this earth way too early (she died at the age of 32). I'm enamored of the sound and the look of the 1960s, so it's not too surprising that I just downloaded the soundtrack from the 1996 movie version of Beautiful Thing (plus a few additional songs that weren't included). Here's a way that Theater Latte Da could improve (something I thought impossible) - offer downloads of songs from their shows. I would definitely buy a soundtrack of this show featuring the songs of Mama Cass in Erin Schwab's fabulous voice (with Dennis Curley's lovely harmonies).
Beautiful Thing trailer from Theater Latte Da on Vimeo.
*I have been looking forward to Theater Latte Da's final show of the season, Spring Awakening, since their season was announced last summer. I think it's one of the best new musicals of the last decade, and I'm really excited to see what Peter Rothstein and Co. do with it. David Darrow (Ste) will make an excellent Melchior, opposite Cat Brindisi (who sang "Mama, Mama, Mama" so beautifully in Spelling Bee last year that I can easily imagine her singing "Mama Who Bore Me") as Wendla, with the very talented Tyler Michaels (aka Snoopy in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown) as my favorite character Moritz. Definitely a show not to be missed.
I believe that was Reid Harmsen working in the lobby of the Lab Theater. Reid has appeared at the Lab as Brad in The Rocky Horror Show, and as my favorite character Mark in RENT. Update: it was indeed Reid; I saw him again a few weeks later and introduced myself. He said he reads my blog all the time and was very sweet. It was so nice to talk to him and I look forward to seeing him onstage sometime soon!