BWW Reviews: Love Abides in The Skylight's I HEAR AMERICAN SINGING

BWW Reviews: Love Abides in The Skylight's I HEAR AMERICAN SINGING

Friday night for the inagural performance, Milwaukee's Skylight Music Theatre presented Daron Hagen's world premiere I Hear America Singing in the Studio Theatre at the Historic Third Ward's Broadway Theatre Center. The Milwaukee born and bred Hagen, a graduate from Brookfield Central High School and afterwards the University of Wisconsin-Madison before attending Julliard, composed a message that "love abides," whether in love of art, country, music, personal relationships or self. An inventive production that defies conventional definitions.

Each musical number in the production, and there are 18 original songs with several reprises in the performance, Hagen fuses musical genres into sincere inspiration that uncovers the buried meanings to the word love while rehearsing on Lisa Schlenker's inviting set design. Also working as the Stage Director, Hagen collaborated with Musical Director Robert Frankenberry (Robbie) to instill in the two other lead characters, played by Carol Greif (Rose) and Rick Pendzich (Roger), an inherent passion for how music, especially Hagen's very personal music, touches hearts and lives in contemporary America.

Hagen's achievements herald him as one of the most prominent composers/conductors in the country and impress any audience. Awards that include a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for Orchestral Music, a 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2014 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for "Outstanding Artistic Achievement" and acknowledges the composer who has arrived at his or her own voice. I Hear America Singing resonates with Hagen's inventive voices, ballads, derivatives of folk tunes, poetic lines, or lyric opera in "We'll Hold One," " When I Was Single" or "I Believe in Song." Heron reiterates during the performance his convictions regarding the restorative power to these important "loves" and in music, melody, to heal a broken spirit or soul, especially after September 11, 2001.

Frankenberry, Greif and Pendzich capture the essence to this message by portraying three former Julliard graduates reuniting for an audition to produce a Broadway show composed by Robbie, who also "came out" during the intervening period, the last 20 years of their lives. Rose and Roger meet after being married and divorced while the three friends reminesce how their lives diverged with disappointments and successes.

These intimate personal stories reinforce the grander concepts that Hagen reveals through his music while the audience revels in the musical talents of the trio, especially Greif and Pendzich, actors who need to cast their characters in believable light touched with sincere affection. A remarkable versatility and virtuoso demonstrated by the entire trio mesmerizes the audience for 90 minutes without intermission in the cozy black box theater, a perfect venue for the heartfelt performance. Even if the audience might be unfamiliar with the operatic tradition or the how Hagen marries intricate harmonies in his music, the story about "You Don't Fall Up, You Fall Down" can be remembered again and again.

How irrelevant to mention that Milwaukee has the privilege to host this renowned hometown musical gift, Hagen, under the Skylight's Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman's exciting commission for his theme of revolution. The company's premiere I Hear America Singing speaks to the future of America's composing and operatic traditions with Hagen's indomitable spirit, which claims "love can be lost, can mend and when one reaches the end, there's a promise that waits to start again," wherever Hagen believes love indeed abides. This May, discover where love abides in the arts, a relationship, in a community, and certainly through the music in one's life at Milwaukee's Skylight and be willing to personally intepret Hagen's inspiriational production.

The Skylight Music Theatre presents Daron Hagen's I Hear America Singing through May 25 in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center through June 1. Please call: 414.291.7800 or visit

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