BWW Feature: [title of show] at The Actorsingers
In Concord, New Hampshire, there is a hidden gem of a theater that provides a home to independent companies from across New Hampshire (some that I've performed in, and some I've seen) called Hatbox Theatre. What gets brought to this stage is consistently unique and engaging, but a tight-knit audience, combined with a small cast, can be a recipe for disaster. Actors unfamiliar with a three-quarter thrust may not be able to rise to the challenges and engage every audience member.
One thing is certain: [title of show], produced by The Actorsingers of Nashua and directed by Mike Colena, rises to the occasion and more. [title of show] is about two friends and creative minds, who together seek to submit an original musical to a theater festival. What occurs is a meta story based largely on the real events of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, and how their little show made it to Broadway. Hunter, played by Jesse Drake, is a big personality and the book writer for the show. Jesse brings a big energy to the role (as well as his slightly smaller role- a dream sequence character in "Original Musical") that never comes off as over the top or fake. This complements the performance's Jeff Bowen, played by Colin Malette, whose character is far more reserved. Colin's performance stood out equally though the energy was different and could have potentially been dampening.
What works well is how the actors took their characters' energy and still manage to balance one another in group scenes (nearly every single scene in the show). To have such diverse characters be so even and equally noticeable on stage is difficult, especially if the characters are performing in different areas of the thrust without microphones, is impressive. Never does it feel that the character closest to me overpowers the other three actors.
Also well balanced are Heidi and Susan, played respectively by Julie Shea and Jessica Wells. There is strong ying / yang chemistry between the two female actors, while still not mirroring characteristics from the two male characters. Neither female character plays to a stereotype, which is a breath of fresh air in musical theater. Granted, there are certainly similarities in Heidi and Susan to female actors trying to make it to Broadway. But Julie and Jessica make the women singular, real - and also incredibly funny. Jessica brings a laidback humor to Susan that keeps her in the realm of funny but realistic. Julie's Heidi is subtle and well timed; how dry and straightforward Heidi responds to being told she takes her shirt off turns a little joke into a very funny moment. Each dynamic between duos or between all four actors felt real, authentic, and balanced. This balance carries over to quick, wordy harmonies, which were executed extremely well. There are truly no moments in this show which lacked in diction or harmony.
It is also important to note that though there are four actors, John Carey, the one-man pit of the show, also plays a noticeable part in the show. What could be throwaway lines become funny, memorable moments from a show that had a lot of take aways. To start off a show laughing that, indeed, "Drag queens need protein too" to the very real idea of what is important when creating a show, John's presence adds to an already memorable experience. It is also a show full of jokes about theater; sneaking popular references into the show like a modern day Easter Egg for theater enthusiasts in the audience, which provides an opportunity to enjoy theater, and the process of building it, with the cast.
This show runs roughly two hours with a comfortable intermission - few shows have felt as engaging and fast paced as [title of show]. The actors are perfect. The storyline feels just absurd enough to feel real. Effective lighting and sound, tackled by Angelica Rosenthal, Tom Lott, and Kae Ryenne, deserves a mention. A show, in a not-large theater, with a set consisting of four chairs, runs the risk of becoming stagnant and limited onstage. The Actorsingers utilise sound and lighting well, building separate scenes and spaces consistently throughout the show.
The Actorsingers are able to demonstrate what a quality musical can look like at Hatbo; in [title of show]. a fun, smart, and exciting musical thrives there. It will be interesting to see if in the future The Actorsingers will choose to pursue more smaller venues and more unique stories. This is an area in which they clearly have the capacity to do well and I look forward to seeing more performances like this.