The story begins when Frannie returns home to Jefferson Township, somewhere in outstate Minnesota, after failing at life in the Cities. She's living in her old room at her dad's house, with her new stepmom who doesn't like her, and is at a bit of a crossroads in life; let's call it a third-life crisis. She gets a job at the local grocery store, where she runs into her old friend Liam, who has never left town. They reminisce about the aforementioned talent pageant, which hasn't been held for 20 years due to a gruesome accident when they were both competing. They decide to resurrect the competition, Liam pulls in former football star and Frannie's high school crush Travis, who tells the reigning champion Val (milking every inch of her fame by doing local commercials), and suddenly the pageant is on! There's much sabotaging, strategizing, and hijinks as we progress to the train wreck of a pageant that takes up almost all of Act II. Without going into detail, there are blood effects designers (Tyler Olsen-Highness and Craig Kossen) listed in the program, so suffice it to say things don't go smoothly. But more importantly, Frannie realizes that the pageant isn't the answer to what she's searching for, and instead, maybe this newfound home, friends, and life is, if she can figure out how to make it work. Sometimes you can go home again, and sometimes you never leave.
|Zach Garcia, Leslie Vincent, Kelly Houlehan, and|
Ryan London Levin (photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)
Keith Hovis has turned his clever and catchy score (sometimes the audience wasn't sure when to clap, which I consider a good thing) over to music director Brian Pekol, who plays percussion in the three-piece onstage band (also including piano and guitar). They're hidden behind a screen at the back of the stage for the first act, but then become visible and part of the show for the second act talent pageant. It took me a few songs to figure out if the actors were miked or not (they are), which means that the sound mix is perfect for the space, subtle and not overdone, a welcome respite after too many overblown musicals (thanks sound designer Jacob M. Davis). Choreographer Antonia Perez has created some fun movement for the cast, including the most charming dance with corded telephones (corded telephones!) that I've ever seen.
|Val (Leslie Vincent) performs her routine while the others watch|
in horror (Kelly Houlehan, Zach Garcia, and Ryan London Levin)
(photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)
I enjoyed Jefferson Township when I saw it at the Fringe two years ago (although it didn't make my favorites list that year), but I love it even more now. The story, characters, and situation feel more fleshed out, and it feels much more grounded, relatable, and poignant, without losing that delightful zaniness. Even though I'm not of the millennial generation, everyone can relate to feeling lost, to looking for a change, to searching for home. You can visit Jefferson Township now through July 28.