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BWW Review: Fringe Favorite SEASONS Brings New Work Excitement to Florida Tour

There is something exhilarating about sitting in the audience watching a new work that you think could eventually become something special. More so than any other artistic medium, pieces of musical theatre require extensive gestation periods, sometimes with years numbering in the decades. So to see a musical, somewhat early on in that process, presents an exciting opportunity to be a part of its growth.

Such was the case when I saw SEASONS at Orlando Shakespeare's Mandell Theatre, which is in the midst of a state-wide tour. Though the show was not produced by Orlando Shakes, it felt right at home in the beautiful, intimate venue. With book, music, and lyrics by Katie Hammond and Elaine Pechacek (who also served as Music Director and Accompanist), there was a lot to be impressed by in the show, however, as is the case with nearly every work at this point in its development, there were also many things that need to be improved upon for it to transcend from local Fringe favorite, to an impactful show on a larger scale. SEASONS took home four Orlando Fringe awards in 2014, including "Best of the Fest."

Understanding that a musical just three years into its life is still undergoing changes at every turn, I want my critiques to be as constructive as possible, as I sincerely think that there is a bright future for this show if the creative team is able to expound on the show's strengths, and rework the things that don't seem to be working just yet.

The sung-through show tells two seemingly incongruous stories, the first focused on Helen (Renee Monico) and Peter (Erin Robere), two former high school classmates who drunkenly reconnect at a reunion. After one night of seemingly meaningless passion, Helen discovers that she is pregnant, derailing her plans to begin medical school. Peter, who has long carried a torch for Helen is committed to not only being there for his baby, but for its mother as well.

The other story is of Hope (Kathryn Fabbroni) and her mother (Beki Herrbach); on the day that Hope becomes engaged to the man she loves, her mother discovers that she has cancer. As they always have, they go through the highs and lows of both major life events together, with Hope's father (Roger Scott) by their side.

I don't want to go too much further into the stories, as it would give away too much, but each storyline takes unforeseen turns resulting in a twist that came with various levels of surprise depending on the audience member. I figured out what was too come no later than 20 minutes in, but, based on her audible gasp, the woman behind me didn't catch on until it was finally spelled out on stage. While there were numerous clues throughout, I don't think that realizing what was ahead lessened the impact of the revelation for me, instead, it just created a different lens for me to see these characters' journeys through.

The performances by the four main actors (Hope's father does not speak or sing), all have moments of strength. In addition to having a beautiful voice, the beautiful Monico simultaneously holds a strength and vulnerability that makes her Helen extremely sympathetic, even when she isn't all that likeable. Peter might not be the most perceptive character in the show, but Robere is able to find moments of emotional and vocal clarity that are extremely exciting. In addition to being stunning in Hope's wedding dress, Fabbroni has opportunities to show a sharp comedic ability and impressive voice, even if some of the songs seem to sit just out of her most comfortable range.

Herrbach is undoubtedly the show's transcendent talent, and if I was a member of the show's creative team, I would lock her up to be a part of SEASONS for as long as possible. She has a tremendous voice that embodies all of the fear, anger, determination, and optimism that are a part of her character's story. Two of her songs, "Blue Jay" and "Something Blue" (on which she duets with Fabbroni) are truly goose bump and tear-inducing moments.

Thus far, you might have noticed that I have primarily written about "moments" in the show. That is because the story, structure, and characters are all exceptionally strong; the bones are there for SEASONS to be a fantastic show, however, there are some significant issues that prevented me from completely falling in love with the new work.

The age-old axiom in theatre is that to be effective on stage, you need to show, rather than tell. Unfortunately, far too much of the score's lyrics are a bit precious, and dead on the nose. The characters spend the majority of their songs telling us how they feel and who they are, rather than showing us through genuine interactions with other characters. As a byproduct, it is difficult to feel connected to the characters; they are so broadly drawn that while you empathize with their situations, you don't feel much emotion for them as individuals. This might be due to the fact that, in this form, SEASONS doesn't utilize a book; it currently plays more like a song cycle of musical soliloquies, rather than a cohesive narrative. The program has Pechacek and Hammond listed as bookwriters, but there were nearly no spoken words in the show; perhaps they were removed for the show's recent Orlando Fringe production, but I think the clarity of dialogue would give the characters some much needed subtlety.

As I mentioned earlier there are a number of songs in the score that are excellent examples of integrated musical theatre, however, there are others that feel melodically and thematically repetitive. Generally this happens when the lyrics fall back on showing, and not telling about the characters' emotions at that given moment.

A lot of this show reminds me of Adam Gwon's four-person show ORDINARY DAYS. Like SEASONS, it is a mostly sung-through show that tells two disparate stories that overlap in surprising ways. However, in ORDINARY DAYS, Gwon is able to communicate both character and plot information without it seeming like simple exposition. I think with a bit of liberal cutting and rewriting, especially focusing on correcting the poor scansion and slant rhyme, Pechacek and Hammond could get this piece to that level.

This production, directed by Benjamin Parish was overloaded with distracting scene changes. Despite the challenges of the show being designed to tour, I am confident that they could have found a more elegant way to handle these transitions that didn't require full blackouts and removing nearly every set piece after each scene. Also, the program and the title hint that the stories are supposed to take place over the course of a year, but I did not see any noticeable differentiation in time on stage. Obviously Helen's pregnancy took nine months, but there was no staging or design elements that clearly reflected that, or any other passage of time.

In a short curtain speech, Pechacek noted that the show is about "choosing love" over fear, and looking back, I can see where that sentiment could have profoundly resonated in the script. However, while watching, those decisions weren't clear enough to create impactful moments for the characters. Hopefully as the show continues to progress, these smaller issues will continue to be ironed out, so that SEASONS can become the show that its early incarnations have given many to hope it can be. I, for one, will be anxious to see how the show progresses over subsequent productions.

SEASONS is currently in the middle of a Florida tour, which will play in Clermont, Fort Lauderdale, Plant City, and more cities across the state over the next year. For more information on the show, visit their website.

To get tickets to be a part of this exciting new work at Clermont's Moonlight Players Theater October 17-19, call 352-319-1116. Don't miss out on the unique opportunity to see this show exciting new work of musical theatre.

Have you caught SEASONS on he early legs of its Florida tour? What did you think? Do Pechacek and Hammond have the makings of the next great intimate musical? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. Also, make sure to connect with us via the new BroadwayWorld Orlando Twitter and Facebook pages below.

Photo Credit:
1) Kathryn Fabbroni and Beki Herrback | SEASONS
2) Renee Monico and Erin Robere | SEASONS
3) Kathryn Fabbroni and Beki Herrback | SEASONS
4) Renee Monico, Kathryn Fabbroni, and Beki Herrback | SEASONS

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