BWW Review: JOSH FRANKLIN CONCERT Astounds at The Green Room 42
Standing on stage and looking at a theater filled with faces that have come to see you must be a validating moment in the life of an entertainer, and it is probably something each performer grows accustomed to overtime. When the field of faces is gathered to hear the works of a new composer, though, it's a different thing, and it has to feel like an "It's a Wonderful Life" moment for that composer, whether these are the faces of family, friends, fans or actual strangers who came in off the street. At last night's concert at The Green Room 42, Josh Franklin must have felt like George Bailey. As the prodigy debuted selections from three musicals he has written, his view from the mic was, surely, overwhelming, with nary an empty seat in the house and nothing but welcoming enthusiasm wafting toward his person and his artistry.
Three Josh Franklin musicals were the source material for the concert, one that featured Broadway actors of superhero-like prowess, all of whom jumped at the chance to showcase either Jack: A Musical Moral Tale, or Royal Blood, or The Consoling Mechanism, each play an original one based on life, history or survival. New musicals are always welcome in the industry, especially musicals of quality and craft, and it is important to nurture the composers who create the shows that employ the artisans of the industry.
And if the 12 songs presented last night are any indication of what is coming from the mind of Josh Franklin, then there is a boom of employment about to hit.
Mr. Franklin emceed (and expertly conducted) the evening, introducing the performers and setting the scene for the songs that were about to happen. The first show in the spotlight was Jack: A Musical Moral Tale, a play created to open a dialogue with high school students about bullying. The musical numbers "Not Cool to be Cold", "When Will You Learn" and "Jack of All Trades" were adroitly performed, respectively, by Lucia Spina (who shook the walls with her authoritative and hair-raising performance), Alison Luff (who has the kind of voice that makes you stop blinking and breathing), and Brian Sears (whose vocal ability is like a sonic representation of a mountain range) alongside Nirvaan Pal (who makes one ask oneself why the child actors from their youth weren't this amazing). During these first three numbers, it became patently clear that Mr. Franklin is the future of musical theater, with definite influences from the creators who came before him, but those influences have taken Franklin's originality and stepped firmly into their own spotlight. And who doesn't love a tap-dancing horse?
Yeah. Tap dancing horse.
Royal Blood was the next Josh Franklin musical to get the focus, and it would probably be the most marketable show at this moment in our world's history, because Vampires. And hip hop. With his writing partner, Kevin Townley, Franklin has created a piece of theater based on actual events from 18th century France, given it a modern score with enjoyable melodic lines and sophisticated yet accessible lyrics. The dialogue that accompanied the four songs presented was tongue in cheek, dark humor delivered by actors well versed in the art of deadpan. The hilarious Townley and Sears took the lead on a song called "Precipice", while winsome Jaron Barney, engaging Bronwyn Tarboton and the incredible Kaylin Hedges laid the audience in the aisles with the song "Borde", about a family plotting how to escape from vampires. With the always astonishing Christopher Sieber leading the charge on "Vampires Are Real" the audience was in for a treat of jaw-dropping inimitable Sieber comic timing, wrapped around a song that changed musical styles on a dime, leaving all as breathless as Sieber was at the end of the epic aria. Wrapping the Royal Blood portion of the evening, last-minute replacement Morgan Reilly's performance of the song "Lady" was positively exciting.
Finally, Mr. Franklin introduced the crowd to The Consoling Mechanism, a musical which will have its world premiere at Virginia Rep in 2012. "Weightless", as performed by Bronwyn Tarboton, was haunting and heartbreaking like an Oleta Adams song at two in the morning, but Nirvaan Pal was the unquestionable showstopper of the night, hypnotizing all with the magnum opus "I Can't Stand It". Matthew Hydzik's performance of a song titled "Talk to You" was one of those musical moments when you think a songwriter is addressing only you, and you wonder how they knew what you feel... except every person in the room feels that way, not just you. Caitlin Kinnunen, her voice so pure, so pretty, yet so intricate, beguiled on the song "Understanding" before skillful storyteller Nick Martinez rose to the occasion on the clever "My Point". Lastly, powerhouse Mariah Lyttle brought it all home with anthem-like "Never Coming Up For Air" -- it was a perfect ending to a perfect evening, enjoyed by so many.
It was interesting to note that each musical has its own voice, its own unique sound; this isn't an instance where a composer's works can be heard and identified as "A Josh Franklin song" because the songs weren't created with a set style - they were each created in the image of the character who would sing it, no easy feat, creating a constantly changing and interesting evening of entertainment. Cabaret concerts like this can be incredibly tricky because it is difficult for an audience to relate to characters and situations just dropped in front of them for the moment of one song, or a three-song cycle. Even with a narrator explaining the setup, there is a risk - viewers cannot just commit that quickly to an artistic expression of an emotional bit of storytelling. That didn't happen last night and Josh Franklin is fortunate in that he has friends who are so talented as to communicate, in an instant, the character, the story, the emotion that they are representing with his gorgeous canon of music. And I'll tell you something else...
That audience was lucky too.
Josh Franklin was assisted on stage by singers Pim Van Amerongen, Megan Masako Haley, dancers Kelly Sheehan & Bryan Hunt, as well as musicians Sean Harkness, Zoe Hassman, Holly Horn, Joseph Wallace, Adam Wolfe, John T. Wolfe.