BWW Reviews: The Barn's TOO OLD FOR THE CHORUS Strikes A Chord With Its Audiences
In her review for Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star), my friend-and I'm currently using that term very loosely-Amy Stumpfl told readers of the Tennessean (Nashville's daily newspaper) that she enjoyed the show, but that clearly she is not part of the show's target audience-or some such rot as that. You see, Ms. Stumpfl, heretofore considered a dear friend and a respected colleague, hasn't yet approached 50, so to hear her tell it she has no clue about the show's relation to the realities of doing just that. Well, as far as I'm concerned, she can just go ahead and su…however, I digress.
You see, I'm right smack in the middle of the show's target demographic and I'll tell you right now: Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star) could be the musicalization of my life (well, kinda…I want the musical based on my life to be bigger, brassier and filled with gorgeous chorus boys…however, once again, I digress…) or your life, I daresay. It's fun and often funny, moving along at a brisk pace and filled with tuneful songs that fit perfectly into the story and the show, even if you're hard-pressed to remember them after (although that may not be the fault of the musical revue's creators-Marie Crain, Mark Winkler and Shelly Markham-since the memory does, indeed, start to move south once you hit the big 5-0 mark).
Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star), directed by a young whippersnapper named Martha Wilkinson (she's artistic director at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, which celebrates its 45th birthday this year, and she has a boatload of First Night Awards and enough glowing reviews to fill the fanny packs of every mall walker briskly making their way through Opry Mills) and featuring a top-notch cast of Nashville actors, is as gentle as the best stool softener and as kick-ass (when it needs to be) as a certain little blue pill favored by certain gentlemen in the age group (certainly not me, but that's what I've been told).
However, it is not lost on me, gentle readers, that Mark Winkler and Shelly Markham helped usher Naked Boys Singing to the stage and I am particularly nonplussed by the fact that they've gone from writing about, well, naked boys singing to graying people whining. That's not a slam or a dig, it's just one of the daily realizations you come to as you get older which, despite everything, still beats the alternative.
In Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star), the creators bring together five people in a coffee shop known as Java the Hut (get it? I may have thrown up in the back of my throat a little) to catch up on the events in their lives and to wax nostalgic for those ear-hair-free days of yore. And while it is often cringeworthy, I have to give the creators their due: It's also charming and sometimes even moving. The creators walk a fine line and, at least most of the time, they succeed in their efforts to cast an amusing glance toward all the vagaries of life in your 50s. There's much to laugh at-you won't necessarily guffaw, but you'll chuckle, maybe even giggle-in the revue's 90 minutes, and the show definitely has its heart in the right place, even if some of the lyrics are less than stellar; but, not unlike a daily helping of Activia, it goes down smoothly, keeping things perking right along.
The score's most effective song, as least to me (who, being the wuss that I am, actually teared up), is the unfortunately named "Dog Passages," in which a character sings of the best pals who've made his life richer by their presence in it. Much like those TV commercials that feature Sarah Maclachlan singing "Angel," you'll find yourself sniffling and weeping, with no remote control to help you change the channel.
And I gotta tell ya: It really does speak the truth about the invisibility of a 50-year-old man in society. If I had a dollar for every time someone in the theater community walks right past me without recognizing me or speaking to me (or actually think I don't know the truth about a particular piece of puffery they're pushing), I wouldn't still be writing reviews in this particular backwater. When you go from fending off flirtatious advances and returning the affable greetings of people you meet, it's a hard pill to swallow (and, good lord, do you swallow a lot of pills in your 50s!). So, Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star) is full of truisms and you may sometimes find yourself blushing in response to what's playing out in front of you, particularly when it seems to have been lifted directly from your life. However, alluding to the old adage that "there's safety in numbers," it's very comforting to know that the maladies and problems you deal with on a daily basis are truly universal and as the ranks of "the 50s" continue to swell, we may actually have a chance to change social discourse in our country. Now, get the hell off my lawn!
Wilkinson's cast includes five talented-dare we call them "beloved"?-Nashville performers, including Vicki White (on the night I was let out of the home long enough to see the show, she was winningly swinging in for Holly Shepherd), Will Sevier (who's nowhere near 50, but you can't help but applaud the lovable lug), Warren Gore (who went to college with me, so he passes muster), and 2011 First Night Honorees Pamela Faye and Danny Proctor (both of whom I love and adore and am always happy to see onstage). The quintet of performers give the rather tepid material all they've got, bringing the characters to life with charm and wit, and giving the old college try in the "let's put on a show" spirit that permeates the atmosphere of Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star). They are, to put it succinctly: Swell!
The band-Randy Craft on piano and Michael Boris on percussion-provide the perfect musical accompaniment for the five actors and they are terrific, thanks to the always noteworthy musical direction of Jaclyn Brown.
Set design by Wilkinson and Patrick Waller provides the right feel for Java the Hut (which is in serious need of some more customers if it plans to stay in business past the show's April 22 closing), and Hannah Schmidt gives the cast some great costumes and wigs to complete the show's physical packaging.
I could write more, of course, but I've just gone over the 1,000 word mark and I'm feeling light-headed (must need some blood pressure meds) and probably need to take a nap. Does anyone remember where I parked my Rascal?
- Too Old For the Chorus (But Not Too Old To Be A Star). Book, music and lyrics by Marie Cain, Mark Winkler and Shelly Markham. Conceived by Mark Winkler. Additional material suggested by Jill Mesaros and Paula Kalustian. Directed by Martha Wilkinson. Music direction by Jaclyn Brown. Presented by Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, Nashville. Through April 22. For details, go to www.dinnertheatre.com; for reservations, call (615) 646-9977.