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Edges: A Cabaret Song Cycle by Pasek and Paul

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In the world of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's cabaret song cycle, Edges, some lives can be summed up in sixteen measures: 


I'm thirty and unwed, I read Cosmo all the time,

I believe a woman has the right to choose.

My bedroom's painted red; I drink Diet Coke with lime

And I'm saving up to take a singles cruise.


or 


I was popular in school, I live West of Central Park,

I trained in Civil Law but I work retail instead.

My car is out of fuel, I still get scared of the dark

And every second Monday I skip work to stay in bed. 


Edges recently enjoyed an all-too-brief engagement at The Duplex, courtesy of Incognito Superstar Productions, featuring a talented cast of singer/actors, under the music direction of James Cunningham, deftly interpreting an impressive collection of character-driven songs by this young combo who collaborate on both music and lyrics. 


In the opening quartet, "Become", we meet the above-mentioned unwed Cosmo reader (soprano Anne Montavon) and under-achieving Upper West Sider (baritone Adam Dietz), along with a 19-year-old born into upper middle class privilege (tenor Michael Munoz) and a gregarious life-of-the-party girl (mezzo Janine Mercandetti).  The intention of Edges, as described by the authors, is to explore the lives of four people who "have succumbed to the definitions that they are forced into by their social surroundings" and come to "question whether they are simply stuck being who others want them to be, or whether they can indeed break through to discover their own potential."  Though the first number does set us in that direction, the rest of the evening plays more like a collection of unrelated songs, lacking in any kind of connection. But that takes nothing away from the high quality of the material.  The light pop and theatre-styled music is accompanied by well-crafted lyrics that tell interesting stories, score some solid laughs and touch some lovely emotions. 


The two women benefit from being assigned Pasek and Paul's strongest material.  In "I've Gotta Run" the jazzy belter Mercandetti sings her laundry list of men she couldn't commit to ("He took me to my junior and senior prom / We made love like he was being sent to Vietnam") with a fierce comic knack.  Montavon gives a delicate and evocative performance of "Lying There", a beautiful soliloquy where a woman considers that the man sleeping next to her is everything she's ever wanted and she wishes she could somehow fall in love with him.  Together, the ladies have a charmingly funny duet singing the jealousies of an adolescent girl and her tween sister. 


Munoz sings with a youthful warmth and straightforward sincerity.  His solo about dreaming of being a great inventor while working at Pizza Hut has bright sparks of innocent humor, and though he does a fine job with a ballad about a woman who spent her life helping the disadvantaged, the lyric lacks the storytelling clarity displayed so well the rest of the evening.  Also a bit lyrically vague is Dietz's solo about his character's experiences vacationing in Europe, but the singer provides an attractive and mellow-voiced baritone. 


A couple of sillier songs work very well.  "Be My Friend" spoofs the new type of socializing popularized by web sites like Friendster and MySpace ("Help me feel alive / Be friend five hundred five") while "I Hmmm You" invents a new word to describe the emotion that falls somewhere between like and love. 


With recent concerts at Joe's Pub and Ars Nova, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul appear to be a team noticeably on the rise.  ISP's production of Edges is a quality showcase of their songs featuring a delightful and spunky company.


Top photo:Adam Dietz, Anne Montavon, Janine Mercandetti and Michael Munoz

Bottom photo:Adam Dietz, Anne Montavon, Michael Munozand Janine Mercandetti

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