BWW Review: BENNY & JOON at Paper Mill Playhouse - A New American Musical that Touches the Heart and Mind
The East Coast premiere of Benny & Joon, is now onstage at Paper Mill Playhouse through Sunday, May 5. This new musical enjoys outstanding direction by Jack Cummings III, clever choreography by Scott Rink, and top music direction by J. Oconer Navarro with orchestrations by Michael Starobin. The show's marvelous cast brings the honest, touching, and entertaining story to life on the Millburn stage.
Benny & Joon features a book by Kirsten Guenther, music by Nolan Gasser, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. The Paper Mill Playhouse Production is presented by special arrangement with Larry Hirschhorn. It is based on the 1993 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture by the same name written by Barry Berman and Leslie McNeil starring Aidan Quinn, Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Julianne Moore. For those who are fans of the movie, the show remains faithful to the storyline, but incorporates wonderful new touches of drama, humor, and romance with a musical score that makes the tale even more enthralling.
The story is set in Spokane, Washington in the early 1990's. Benny runs an auto repair shop while caring for his younger sister, Joon, an artistically creative woman who is mentally ill. Benny has been devoted to his sister and protective of her for fifteen years since the tragic death of their parents. He adamantly rejects the advice of Joon's psychiatrist, Dr. Cortez who believes that Joon would better off in a group home allowing Benny to lead a life of his own. The siblings' routines are dramatically altered when Benny meets a lovely woman, Ruthie and Joon connects with an unconventional young man and avid movie fan, Sam. This is a beautiful story of love, support, growth, and hope that will surely affect the hearts and minds of all who see it.
The cast of Benny & Joon is a dream team. They include Claybourne Elder as Benny; Hannah Elless as Joon; Bryce Pinkham as Sam; Conor Ryan as Sam at certain performances; Tatiana Wechsler as Ruthie; Colin Hanlon as Mike; Paolo Montalban as Larry; Natalie Toro as Dr. Cortez/Mrs. Smail; Jacob Keith Watson as Waldo/Video Store Owner; Belinda Allyn is the standby for Joon, Ruthie, Dr. Cortez/Mrs Smail.
Elder's portrayal of Benny and Elless' of Joon are wholly genuine. They capture the siblings' affection for each other and the tensions that occur between adults in the midst of change. Pinkham masters the role of Sam with the character's physical humor and spot-on imitations of movie personalities. Wechsler charms as Ruthie and Toro is ideal the role of the concerned psychiatrist, Dr. Cortez. Hanlon, Montalban, and Watson round out the story perfectly as their characters demonstrate friendship, humor, wit and wisdom.
Audiences will love the scenes that include Joon playing poker with Benny's friends; Sam making grilled cheese with a clothes iron; Benny Ruthie, Sam and Joon enjoying dinner and a movie; Sam applying to work at the video store; Ruthie and Benny's first date; a baseball game with the friends; and Benny's heartfelt visit with Joon at the hospital.
The musical numbers are a great fit for the story and the vocal performances couldn't be better. Some of the memorable songs include "Saving a Life" by Joon; "Playing for Keeps" by Larry, Mike, Waldo, Joon and Benny; "In My Head" by Sam; "Benny and Joon" by Joon and Benny; "Dinner and a Movie" by Benny, Ruthie, Sam, and Joon; "I Can Help" by Sam and Video Store Owner; "You Meet a Man" by Ruthie; "Yes or No" by Joon; and "This This This" by the Company.
The Design Team has done a fabulous job of creating the scene for Benny & Joon with its flexible setting. They include scenic and costume design by Dane Laffrey; lighting design by R. Lee Kennedy; sound design by Kai Harada; Hair and Wig design by Rachael Geier; and Flying by Foy. The casting is by Nora Brennan, CSA; the Movement Coordinator s Lorenzo Pisoni; and the Production Stage Manager is Victoria Navarro.
Producing Artistic Director, Mark S. Hoebee, and Managing Director, Michael Stotts are continuing to bring metro area audiences shows that have been dazzling theatergoers at Paper Mill Playhouse for 80 years. Don't miss the chance to experience the new American musical, Benny & Joon. This sensitive portrayal of people's lives is a feel-good show that should relished by a broad audience this spring.
Benny & Joon will be on stage through Sunday, May 5, 2019 at Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive) in Millburn, NJ. Performances are eight times a week, Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are no on sale at the Box Office, by calling 973.376.4343 and online at https://papermill.org/.