BWW Review: HUNDRED DAYS: Every Song Tells a Story
Book by The Bengsons and Sarah Gancher, Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons; Producer/Director, Brian Boruta; Music Director, David Wright; Scenic Design, Ryan Bates; Lighting & Video Design, SeifAllah Sallotto-Cristobal; Sound Design, Elizabeth Havenor; Costume Design, Brian Simons; Properties Design, Sarajane Morse Mullins; Stage Manager, Jamie Nicole Imperato
Performances through February 16 at The Umbrella Black Box, The Umbrella Stage Company, 40 Stow Street, Concord, MA; Box Office 978-371-0820 or www.TheUmbrellaStage.org
Hundred Days and the intimate Black Box at the Umbrella Stage Company in Concord are a perfect match, not unlike Abigail and Shaun Bengson, the couple whose true story of their romantic and musical journey is told in this original song cycle. Staged like a concert before a few cabaret-style tables and rows of stadium seating, with the band seated behind the vocalists and totally engaged, Hundred Days has elements of Once with everyone having a grand old time making music as the vehicle for their storytelling.
The theater space is not the only thing that is intimate, as The Bengsons and co-book writer Sarah Gancher do not shy away from sharing very personal, autobiographical details. Abigail (Jess Andra) takes the stage first and opens the pages of her back story to lay the foundation for things that we will learn about her as the couple meet and develop their relationship. Throughout the narrative, it is Abigail who really bares her soul and displays great vulnerability. We learn less about Shaun (Kirk Vanda), although he seems to be the kind of guy who can be described as "what you see is what you get." While presenting as unassuming, he puts his emotions into the writing of his songs, and Vanda's performance reflects that quality.
After a family trauma when Abigail was fifteen years old, her life is informed by fear of sickness, madness, and death, and this weighs heavily on her relationship with Shaun. Andra is magnetic, drawing much-deserved attention as she takes us on her character's roller coaster ride through a mélange of emotions. She shows sheer joy when singing the upbeat songs, jumping up and down, beating on a drum, and connecting with her bandmates. At other times, she conveys Abigail's anxiety and dread, finding another vocal style that is appropriate for the dark songs. When Abigail is finally able to commit to the life that she and Shaun had planned, Andra convincingly plays that moment.
Vanda is laid back in the book scenes, but shows his talent when he straps on the guitar and sings the emotions in Shaun's songs. He and Andra share realistic chemistry and make us believe that this is their story, that they are The Bengsons. Backing them up, Vanessa Calantropo and Andrea Giangreco are terrific vocalists who also play guitar. The onstage band, led by music director David Wright on keyboard, consists of Erica Risti (accordion/guitar), Tara Chambers (cello), and Pat Hanafin (drums), and they produce a vibrant sound.
Producing Artistic Director of the Umbrella Stage, Brian Boruta, directs Hundred Days and captures the energy, the depth of the couple's feelings, and the vital connection it all has to the music. He collaborates with his team of designers (Ryan Bates, scenic; Seifallah Sallotto-Cristobal, lighting & video; Elizabeth Havenor, sound; Brian Simons, costume; Sarajane Morse Mullins, properties) to create a production that works both as a theatrical concept and a concert at the same time. It is, as Boruta says in his program notes, "a premiere, of sorts...in its latest incarnation." It is likely that this staging will serve as a ready made template for other regional theater companies to mount future productions.