BWW Review: A PERFECT LIFE is a touching new musical with potential.
A PERFECT LIFE is presented by Austin Theatre Project as part of its 2017 season. This world premiere is based on the musical, One Man Band by Tony and Emmy Award winner Larry Hochman, Marc Elliot, and James Lecesne. The original One Man Band enjoyed a well-received New York run in 1985. Original composers Larry Hochman and Marc Elliot, who is also the show's lyricist, have teamed up with playwright Laurie Hochman, to tell this bittersweet, but ultimately hopeful story of life, love, and loss.
A PERFECT LIFE follows Art (Daniel Cline), a farmer who finds himself in a mental hospital after a fruitless search for his beloved wife, Adele (Alicia Lynn Cornwell) who has suddenly vanished. While in the hospital, he retells his story to fellow patients, Doc (Dalton Hutto) and Karma (Emily Christine Smith), often aided by the voices (Nina Amara, Susannah Crowell, and Cat Phillips) that only he can hear. A simple man by nature, Art believes his wife may have journeyed to the bright lights of Atlantic City in hopes of becoming a dancer and sets off to find her. Along the way, he meets Mary Kay (also played by Alicia Lynn Cornwell), a young woman who is also in search of something. Together, they decide to make their way to Atlantic City. As Art's story progresses, it becomes apparent to Karma that something is missing from his story. As the mystery of what happened to Adele unfolds, Art must come to terms with the disappearance of his wife, his own limitations, and that a perfect life isn't always the one you envisioned.
Performances by the cast are predominantly well done throughout the 90-minute production. Under the expert musical direction of Larry Hochman and David Blackburn, each actor's strong vocal performance fits appropriately into the production's well-written musical numbers that range from powerful ballads to upbeat melodies. Daniel Cline and Alicia Lynn Cornwell show impressive range during standout songs; Somewhere Out There, Moonlight, and Take Every Moment. Supporting actors, Dalton Hutto and Emily Christine Smith offer up plenty of comic relief as Doc and Karma during such numbers as Singin' a Song and Snappin' a Smile. As the ethereal Voices, Nina Amara, Susannah Crowell, and Cat Phillips are featured in nearly every song during the two- act production and their three part harmonies are incredibly pleasing to the ear.
Simple set design by Jim Schuler offers a wide-open playing space for the actors and serves as a canvas for James Jennings and Courtney DeGrinder's ambitious lighting and projection design. These elements richly enhance the production and allow easy transitions between the musical's various settings. Staging by Director, Barbara Schuler, and choreography by Chris Ehresman and Alicia Lynn Cornwell also take advantage of the stage's openness, using every square inch wisely and efficiently.
The main area of concern for this production lies in the book by Laurie Hochman. While the story is touching, it at times feels rushed, with important moments feeling glossed over. This gives the impression of an underdeveloped book and characters. Without these important factors, the actors cannot fully embark on their characters' journey and poignant/powerful moments are left feeling forced. With the benefit of additional rewrites, a well-rounded script will allow this story to achieve its emotionally charged objective.
In closing, Austin Theatre Project's A PERFECT LIFE is a touching musical with potential. This story deals with themes of grief, acceptance, and perseverance, all with a catchy, uplifting score. Although there is room for improvement, the show's heart and the passion of its creative team ensure a promising future for this new work.
Approximate running time: Ninety minutes, with one fifteen-minute intermission.