BWW Reviews: CCP's GOLDEN BOY OF THE BLUE RIDGE Musically Updates Synge's Irish Classic
"Way Out Back and Beyond" is raucously entertaining, a surefire way to draw audiences into the story; "They Right Man for the Job" is character-driven and effective; "Grist for the Mill," which may be the one song that doesn't dovetail so seamlessly into the rest of the score (it seems more like a folk-tinged song performed from memory), is nonetheless delightful and an ideal way to draw the second act audience back into the story after 15 minutes of intermission and bathroom breaks. But it's "Golden Boy," performed with such startling intensity by Baker that may be the show's most memorable, and which most effectively recalls Margaret's plaintive rejoinder in Synge's play that she has lost the one true "playboy of the western world."
Therein you find the true charm and unyielding impact of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge: it's faithful to Synge's original work, without being slavishly chained to it (there's no feeling that the writers feel at all constrained by the original). Rather, Mills and Reichel use it as a jumping off point, using it as a framework-never straying far from Synge's original story, to be sure-to craft a contemporary work for the theater that is enormously entertaining and endlessly delightful and diverting. And, as director Fionte writes in his notes for the playbill, it's unlike anything you've seen or heard before (although there are moments that recall the very best of Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel) or likely to encounter hence.
Fionte's ensemble of actors/musicians delivers the goods with big-hearted, expansive style, intelligently playing the comedy with more subtlety than expected. Donald Frison's choreography seems inspired by both mountain clogging and high-Flying Musical theater style, which gives the show a lighthearted, sprightly spring in its step.
Marshall's musical direction ensures that the score is performed in exemplary fashion by her players: Douglas Waterbury-Tieman on fiddle, Colin Cahill on banjo, John Dobbratz on mandolin, ukulele and the intriguingly named "spamjo" (which I like to think is fashioned from an empty Spam can strung with catgut), Drew Robbins on guitar and Tony Greco on bass (at the performance reviewed, Ron Murphy played bass on keyboards offstage in place of the absent Greco).
In addition to their fine musicianship, the uber-versatile Waterbury-Tieman, Cahill and Dobbratz play several characters in the show, including some large-footed, ham-handed mountain belles who seek to supplant Maggie in Clayton's heart.
Baker's spirited Maggie is an outspoKen Young woman who dreams of something bigger and better than she's been raised to expect, and her chemistry with Pendzick-and with Price-is richly colored and multi-layered with meaning and intent. Black is charmingly duplicitous as J.M., the ne'er do well moonshiner who runs afoul of the law from time to time, while Marshall makes the most of her every moment onstage as the Widow Grubbs to create a memorable performance. But it's Ross (and his exceptional makeup design-you have to see it to believe it!) who very nearly steals the show with an on-target portrayal of the mysterious interloper who throws a wrench into the romanticized tale of Clayton's misdeeds.
Fionte's set design provides the ideal backdrop for the play's action-the McFarland cabin is home, general store and hangout for the neighborhood's habitués-and Sam Hahn's lighting design artfully captures the play's action, evoking the mountain setting in so doing. Renee Lutrell's costumes help to create the actors' characterizations with perfect period style.
- Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge. Music and lyrics by Peter Mills. Adapted from John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel. Directed by John Fionte. Musical direction by Lauren Marshall. Choreography by Donald Frison. Presented by Cumberland County Playhouse, Crossville. For details, go to www.ccplayhouse.com. For reservations, call (931) 484-5000.