BWW Review: ZACH's THE BALLAD OF KLOOK AND VINETTE Sings with Charm and Shine
Written by Ché Walker, with music and lyrics by Anoushka Lucas and Omar Lyfook, THE BALLAD OF KLOOK AND VINETTE is an intimate, two character play with music, now running at ZACH through the 26th. Local celebrities Roderick Sanford and Chanel play Klook and Vinette, and, according to ZACH Artistic Director Dave Steakley, Sanford and Chanel were the two he felt were perfect for the roles when he first viewed the play at The National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) New Musical Festival in the fall of 2017.
Playwright Ché Walker, who was raised in London, spent some time in LA on a high school basketball scholarship, where he met the people who would inform Klook and Vinette. It's a "modern love story of lost souls trying to find themselves in one another." Walker's collaboration with Lucas and Lyfook (a catchily named duo in the vein of Comden and Green) is unique in that each of them took on writing specifically for the character that matched their gender. Their language is simultaneously intellectual, rich, sexy and earthy. KLOOK AND VINETTE is a story shared directly with us that is interspersed with dialogue and music. The result of this trio's collaboration is a kind of long form poem with music.
The production values for KLOOK AND VINETTE contribute to a cabaret style performance, placing musical director and pianist Christian Magby and bassist Anna Macias on stage right beside all the action. A few ghost lights scatter the intimate stage, doing double duty as characters and props at times, and a tasteful and lighting design is provided by Rachel Atkinson. Costume designer Carla Nickerson's design is equally interesting, thoughtful and appropriate. Designer Scott Groh gives us props that are representative, rather than real. In other words, understated for the most part, these elements leave the focus where it should be: on Klook (Roderick Sanford) and Vinette (Chanel).
The language in this script is beautiful, however, I admit that the first person narrative employed by Walker left me feeling less invested in these characters as I could have been. Since a majority of the story is told to me, rather than shown to me, I'm not asked to work at developing a relationship of my own with them. I felt oddly removed from the passion of this tale, as beautiful and well delivered as it was otherwise. I also longed for the experience of a grittier edge that seemed missing from the story, and this too may have been lost in Walker's narrative choice.
Nevertheless, this is a great production. Chanel's Vinette is at turns hopeful and cynical, wise and innocent. We watch her become more hopeful of both her prospects and those of Klook. Sanford's Klook is both confident and pragmatic - he knows where he comes from and just exactly what he's faced with in life. Sanford and Chanel have all the shine and polish that should come from such a reputable theatre company and their performances don't disappoint. Executed with style and ease, they both inhabit their characters beautifully, particularly in light of the neo blues style of the music - perfect for them both, just as Steakley had envisioned.
This is a charming, intimate show about two people struggling against a past that continues to try and catch up with them. From the very beginning we suspect their fate will be tragic, though we can't help but root for Klook and Vinette. It seems in the bittersweet end, these two are loving, lovable and loved.
Directed by Dave Steakley
Book by Ché Walker, Music and lyrics by Anoushka Lucas and Omar Lyefook
Through May 26th
Kleberg Stage, Zach Theatre
South Lamar Blvd at Riverside Drive
Austin, TX, 78704
90 minute run time with no intermission
Tickets available here
Photo credit: Kirk R. Tuck