Friday, June 10, 2022

"Flight of Short Musicals" by Theatre Elision at Elision Playhouse

About a year ago, I returned to the theater after 508 days without it to see Theatre Elision's truly lovely production of Islander at Elision Playhouse, continuing in their tradition of new or rarely done one-act musicals with mostly female cast and/or creative team. Now in just their second post-covid-intermission production, they're bringing us another edition of Flight of Short Musicals, which they first did in January 2020 (sadly no flight of drinks this time, because covid). Elision has a knack for finding hidden gems, and for this program they found six of them: short musicals, or excerpts from musicals, that are perfect and complete in just 15 minutes or less. If you're interested in the future of music-theater that's more than just the big splashy musical, you don't want to miss this. Just two performances remain - click here for details.

On a cozy and classy set filled with comfy couches and armchairs, warmly lit by lamps, a talented cast of nine local singer/actors (Serena Brook, Caleb Cabiness, Justin Cooke, Vanessa Gamble, Kaitlin Klemencic, Sara Sawyer, Christine Wade, Marissa Janelle Ward, and Melanie Wehrmacher) brings us six short pieces of music-theater. All of them are a mixture of comedy and drama, and manage to tell a full emotional story about well-defined characters in a short time (it makes me wonder why anything needs to be longer that 15 minutes, or certainly 90). I began to sense a theme about people at a crossroads in life, after which their life is going to change, for better or worse, but certainly for good (or maybe that's just what all good storytelling is). In the style of a reading, performers stand in front of music stands with the script, but still fully perform the roles. They're mostly unmiked in the intimate space of Elision Playhouse, accompanied by music director Harrison Wade on keyboard, with director/designer Lindsay Fitzgerald creating interesting storytelling vignettes that go beyond a mere reading.

Crossing Over by Timothy Huang
A master of the short musical form, this Timothy Huang piece is a funny and poignant story of a woman (Katilin) who loves her job as a data analyst working at home and doesn't want to cross over the threshold to the outside world (it might have been written about me), until a neighbor's (Melanie) ghostly crisis forces her to reach out and make a connection.

Blank Slate by Julia Meinwald and Gordon Leary
A man (Caleb) looking to reinvent himself shows up at an thrift store and asks the clerk (Marissa) to pick out things for him, including a new name. It's sweet and funny and awkward, and speaks to identity, how we define ourselves, and how others see us.

Over Texas by Michael John LaChiusa
Elision was about to open First Lady Suite in March 2020, but we know how that story goes. If this excerpt about the president's secretary (Vanessa) and the first lady's secretary (Christine) on Air Force One en route to Dallas in November 1963 is any indication, it's a brilliant, complex, fascinating look at American history. Jackie herself (Sara) also makes an appearance, singing about that devastating day. They hope to present the full musical next season.

People are Dancing by Sarah Hammond and Benny Gammerman
This charming sudden love story about two people who meet at an airport (Serena and Justin) and embark on a Venetian romance has surprising depth.

Carol Brown by Flight of the Conchords
Because someone at Theatre Elision loves Brett and Jemaine as much as I do, they did this silly little ditty sung by a man (Caleb) about all of the funny and rhyming ways his ex-girlfriends have dumped him.

Occupy by James Phillips with music by Rosabella Gregory
In an excerpt from the play with music City Stories: Tales of Love and Magic in London, which Elision was also planning to produce pre-covid, a woman (Serena) writes a letter to God and then wants it back, so she visits the keeper of the letters (Justin) at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which sparks a crisis of faith and a new understanding of the world for both of them. Although I didn't quite understand how the songs (beautifully sung by Christine) related to the text of the piece, I found it truly beautiful and deeply moving. And in a thoughtful touch, everyone in the audience received their own letter.