BWW Review: THE CUBAN AND THE REDHEAD at Pegasus Theatre
One sure sign of a troubled musical is the inability to recall a single tune from the twenty listed in the show's program immediately following the performance. But that's not all that needs adjusting in Pegasus Theatre's ambitious new work, THE CUBAN AND THE REDHEAD, onstage at the Charles W. Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts through September 30th.
Written by husbands Robert Bartley and Danny Whitman (and directed by Bartley), THE CUBAN AND THE REDHEAD is essentially the "True Hollywood Story" of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Arnaz and Ball meet while pursuing film and music careers and, although they take plenty of time warming up to each other, the famous duo eventually shacks up and creates the now-famous sitcom I Love Lucy.
Aside from the aforementioned forgettable score, which only truly allows Arnaz (played by Storm Lineberger) to vocally soar, challenges arise in the show for Bartley and Whitman by writing a fluid, relatable arc for Arnaz at the expense of idol Lucille Ball. Here, Ball (Leslie Stevens) is stubborn, cutthroat, and crass, almost completely devoid of the humor that made her the American icon she's celebrated to be. And while this characterization may (or may not?) have been true, audiences aren't likely interested in sitting through the attack of the legend whose very fame is marketing the show. The show does eventually show off the Lucy we've known and loved, but it's too little and way too late...closing the show with a brief nod of what audiences hoped to celebrate 2 hours and 15 minutes sooner.
Perhaps a director with less emotional attachment to the writing process could have better helped Barley and Whitman shape the script, but what's on stage does not quite seem prepared for a full-scale production that recently raised $25,000 through crowd-funding, in addition to the monies initially raised to produce the local effort. Amelia Bransky's industrial scenic scaffolding further isolates the act with a chilling, dark tone, while Bruce Coleman's costumes and Dan Schoedel's lights make their best efforts to provide some warmth. Despite the small setup, musical director Christopher D. Littlefield and his three musicians succeed in filling the theatre with a proud, big-band sound.
The talented cast offers mostly strong performances (especially locals Beth Lipton and Robin Clayton). As the show's hero and eponymous Cuban, Storm Lineberger (from the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera) enhances his stage time with an effortless tenor voice and an honest approach. Janelle lutz' Carole Lombard (a character who could easily be eliminated without impacting the story) provides the highlight of the entire evening with the Act Two ballad "I Remember," arguably the strongest moment in the score. It's impossible, however, to not feel uncomfortable for Leslie Stevens, the actress hired last minute to play Lucille Ball. Not only is Miss Stevens' rarely allowed an opportunity to shine either comedically or vocally, but with her co-star clearly decades younger than her, the lack of chemistry is understandable.
For the core of Bartley and Whitman's musical to find its footing, minimizing Lucille Ball's stage time and billing might better allow audiences to follow Desi Arnaz's rags-to-riches story, which seems to have been the goal all along. But kudos to the pair, along with Pegasus Theatre, for taking such a brave step forward with an original attempt.
THE CUBAN AND THE REDHEAD continues through September 30th. Tickets and more information can be found at www.pegasustheatre.org,