BWW Review: BETWEEN THE LINES at Kansas City Repertory Theatre
An enthusiastic audience at Kansas City Repertory's Spencer Theater was treated Friday, September 15 to the world premiere performance of "Between The Lines," a new musical that deserves a future far beyond this opening run in Kansas City. It is a throwback to the prototypical well-conceived, masterfully executed, tuneful, funny, appropriately danced, and professionally acted example of what you hope a Broadway style musical might aspire to be as its best. It moves seamlessly from scene to scene, never takes its audience for granted, and manages to entertain while still making a point.
Based on a 2013 young adult novel by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer, this show literally transitions from the bound page to a Broadway style stage and a slightly older audience. With a libretto by Tim McDonald and a sprightly score and lyrics by Kate Anderson and Elyssa Samsel, Director Jeff Calhoun has drawn on his long personal history of Broadway successes and brought together a cast that would bring credit to any New York or London stage.
Delilah McPhee (Arielle Jacobs) is an awkward, seventeen year-old child of a bitter divorce. Dad has run off with a Yoga instructor and failed to keep his support commitment to Delilah's Mom, Grace (Shanna Jones). She is a junior student at a new high school, struggling to navigate new school cliques, and getting used to her different environs. Mom, although close to completing her nursing degree, is forced to take multiple jobs as a maid to support the family.
Delilah finds solace at the school library and in one particular book. "Between The Lines" is a fairy tale complete with a handsome Prince, a clueless Princess, a mean queen, a witch, mermaids, a villain, a man who has been half turned into a dog, and even a fire breathing dragon. The book was been originally intended for readers much younger than Delilah, but somehow she has bonded with it and magic happens.
Prince Oliver (Curt Hansen) from the fairy tale reaches out from the book to Delilah and they fall in love before spending the remainder of the show scheming to find a way to come together against a background of storybook characters from the fairy tale world, Delilah's American Graffiti classmates, and divorce problems at home.
For reference only, characters from Delilah's real world, cross over and live in her fairy tale just as in the classic story of the "Wizard of Oz." In some ways, one is reminded of a flip about from Disney's 2007 "Enchanted." The similarity is interesting because these composers are currently completing an animated movie musical for the Disney company.
The combination of imported Broadway talent and a very good cadre of local actors are universally excellent. Arielle Jacobs as Delilah and Curt Hansen as the Prince are perfect matches and top quality, but it is the secondary leads that make this show really pop. Shanna Jones as Mom Grace and Queen Maureen sparkles. Emily Shackleford as mean girl Allie and Clueless Princess Seraphina does an hysterical valley girl. Danny Gardner's half dog Frump and his "Out of Character" song and dance routine are true show stoppers as is the great fairy tale mermaid routine (reminiscent of Motown underwater or a Bette Midler concert). The three mermaids encourage Delilah to examine her choices rather than running off to marry the Prince. Tim Scott fairy tale villian Rapskulio does a fine job showing that he is a lonely guy with an artistic side and even more sensitive as Dr. Ducharme in the real world.Judy Simmons as Ms. Winx the librarian is vintage Judy Simmons.
The combination of Tobin Ost's set, Brad Peterson's surprising action projections, and self-propelled set pieces on multiple wagons do a fine job of keeping the action moving without a pause or a chance to catch your breath. The music and performance are both really good. There are so good that it is tough to single out most single numbers and remember them for themselves with the exception of the main theme "Between The Lines."
If I had to criticize this show, I'd have a hard time doing so. It did seem, however, that there was a slight action dip leading to a fine first act finale surprise. Lots of stuff is happening. The lyrics throughout are crammed with so much content, that it can be difficult to capture all the meaning packed in there. I was a little disappointed that Danny Gardner's "Out of Character" routine required him to exit so quickly. That number could have rated a short reprise and allowed the audience to appreciate it more fully.
Overall, "Between the Lines" is a very entertaining, top quality, well produced effort. Kansas City is lucky to have rated the first production anywhere with the authors, directors, and composers sitting in the house taking it all in. Also in attendance were folks who seemed to be considering this show's next step. I would be very surprised if "Between the Lines" doesn't go on to do great things for audiences for years to come. Our opening night audience and their appreciations expressed at the end of many of these numbers bordered on cheers.
"Between the Lines" continues in the Spencer Theater at KCRep through October 1. Audiences will not be disappointed unless, of course, they miss seeing the show. Tickets are available at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre website or by telephone at 816-235-6106
Photos courtesy of Kansas City Repertory Theatre.