BWW Reviews: COLUMBIA - A Legacy to Never Hit the Ground
When a person goes to see a performance, there are some instances in which he or she wishes that the characters portrayed on stage were real - that the plot was truly unfolding right before the audience's collective eye, and the circumstances which constitute the story being told would allow for more than simply a reaction. What occurs actually begins to engage the audience, compelling those watching to do more than simply go along for the ride, or join the epic adventure on which so-and-so is about to embark - an adventure through the jungles of a new land, or perhaps one towards self-discovery. In such cases, certain feelings are stirred: feelings that make someone want to stand up and engage in the world unfolding upon that stage; feelings that truly make a person want to walk on stage and join these characters in their trials and tribulations.
Well, having learned of Rospo's epic story after a performance of Columbia: The Life and Death of Rospo D. Oro, it would be perfectly inhuman not to want this young man to succeed on his journey to do what was unprecedented - to live before his time amongst those who believe in nothing but what tradition dictates; it would also be just downright sad to not wish to bear witnesses to this admirable, heartwarming tale again and again.
Inspired by Kenneth Grahame's novel The Wind in the Willows, the story of Rospo D. Oro is simply beautiful; here, it is conveyed as a musical with both a lesson and a song (well, many), leaving the audience with that feeling of hope and inspiration that makes each person present feel that anything is possible, and no spark of greatness should ever be extinguished. It is a story of hope that affects the audience as much as it does each character upon the stage of Theatre Row's Beckett Theatre - a story that desperately needs to be told, not only because of its own greatness, but especially because such a message of encouragement and persistence is needed in a time when many people may not believe in their happy ending. Columbia really speaks to anyone who wishes to invest every spark of life and being into something that can knowingly be achieved; in Rospo's case, this came about in the creation of Columbia.
Although this is his story, Rospo's example is truly universal in its message and effect. Each character on that stage, from Netty, the former cave dweller (played by Liz Muller, who also serves as the show's director, musical director, set designer and lyricist, and is the person who clearly got this musical on its feet!) and her almost Plato-inspired desire to see what lies beyond the cave, to Ratty (Adam du Plessis) and his ardent hope to surround himself with the vastness of the sea, is ultimately affected by Rospo's will to succeed. Without this character serving as the story's center, its basic core, there is no lesson to be learned - no hearts to be unburdened and no love to be discovered; basically, there is a lack of hope, and with that comes a pointless existence. So, this kid is kind of important.
Rospo is clearly determined, and hopeful, and possesses all qualities that make him so wonderful a character; played by ALex Parrish, who is beyond superb in this role, he is THE force to be reckoned with in this musical. With his charm, witty personality and sheer inability to accept convention and the final word coming from anywhere but his own mouth, Rospo is everyone's favorite protagonist; he is truly what each of us subconsciously wishes to be in life. He is the universal hero, oppressed and beaten yet nevertheless bound enough to his dream to hardly even consider himself permanently fallen. Parrish truly deserves every ounce of praise given to him, as he really brings the energy necessary to bring this musical to life; he is the light which guides all others on that stage, and therefore essentially takes over the musical whilst keeping that innocence and likability that makes his eventual death so touching.
He has a gift, which he himself does not really notice: his attempts to build Columbia and make her strong and able enough to fly gradually brings each character in this show (and the audience, for that matter) to some realization. Rospo's "father" Aric (Anthony Malchar) completely changes his approach towards his child's attempts at creating something so radical, Ratty and Netty discover that adventure is hardly worth anything if there is not someone with whom to share its wonders, and Jewels (Amanda Teneriello) learns to accept that she will never be the true focus of Rospo's affections. He is so prominent a figure that even towards the end of the show is his death implied and not made absolutely clear; his legacy can never truly die. This is a character whose example on the stage is really as unprecedented as his belief in Columbia - just one reason for you to see this show at the Beckett before it closes.
So, why else would someone choose to see this show? Well, if not to give ALex Parrish the hug that you will want to give him while on stage, maybe just for the feeling of being in the audience! This musical is so "self-contained" in terms of its uniqueness; it is a world that is fairly out of reach (which lends this show its description as a "fairy-tale musical for adults"), mystical, even eerie, if you will; although the audience is there, experiencing everything that happens and feeling each emotion evident on that stage, there is still something so far away about this show. It is discovered that the nearby communities are very set in their ways; anyone to disobey the rules or go against convention is shunned and ultimately punished. There is no set time period, but the simplicity of the set and costumes gives the impression of a modern day world that is either a bit less advanced than the people of the present day, or even reminiscent of a civilization living the reality of a post-apocalyptic world. In a sense, it is a perfect domain where each of these characters has a place, yet not one that brings him or her any sort of happiness; there is room for change in this world, and just to have the potential for this change to exist already makes it a place any audience member would want to visit. There is such hope in this musical, that you cannot be anything but eager to see it!
In addition, each actor is amazing. Enough has been said about ALex Parrish, but each person on that stage is absolutely amazing. There is such talent, whether it be in the strong acting, the beautiful voices heard, or just the sheer ability of each character to connect with one another; there is something magical about this cast, and each member of it should really be commended. Even the ensemble was great, as many of these individuals came out of the group to play additional roles; having been in many an ensemble myself, it is as honorable to portray different characters as it is admirable and fun, so good job to everyone! Credit must also be given to those behind the scenes, such as Dan O'Brien (light design), Collin Simon and Michael Macagnone (arrangers and performers of all music within the show who should definitely make an appearance next time!) and stage manager Stephanie Goldman. Just to comment on the music: it is epic!
What all these people came together to create is a show not meant to entertain; instead, it makes you think, and feel, and just experience the wonder of what the right person with the perfect amount of inspiration can do for those around him. When I mentioned how everyone should want to live in this world where everything just makes sense because of the influence of a single person, I did not lie; there truly is power to be found in the hopeful.
Columbia: The Life and Death of Rospo D.Oro, presented by Theatre Row/The Beckett Theatre (in association with Pipe Dream Theatre), began performances on January 9th and will continue thru January 25th. The performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays @ 7pm; Wednesdays-Fridays @ 8pm; Saturdays @ 2pm & 8pm; Sundays @ 3pm. The Beckett Theatre is located at 410 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $26.25 (general seating), and may be ordered via Telecharge.com, by calling 800-447-7400 or by visiting https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Columbia-the-life-and-death-of-Rospo-D-Oro/Overview. The show runs 100 minutes without an intermission -- you don't really need one! Enjoy the show.
Photo Credit: Aaron Souza. Quote obtained from show program.