BWW Review: THE VIEW UPSTAIRS at Richmond Triangle Players
The images are haunting. Their stories are heartbreaking. Prior to the Pulse nightclub tragedy, it was the most deadly attack against the LGBT community. The arson at the UpStairs Lounge in the French Quarter of New Orleans is at the center of Richmond Triangle Players' enjoyable and moving season opener, THE VIEW UPSTAIRS.
During a time of destructive anti-gay stigma, the UpStairs Lounge provided acceptance and community for LGBT individuals-save for one who allegedly brought hell to the lounge on June 24, 1973.
With VIEW, writer and composer Max Vernon has created a clever yet sometimes uneven world where the present intersects with the past. Millennial Wes (Dale Sampson) is purchasing the building at 141 Chartres Street for his fashion empire. Upon entering the second-floor space that housed the Lounge, representations of victims from the 1973 fire are brought to life to share their stories and a bit of LGBT history with Wes. At the heart of Vernon's message, though sometimes overstated, is the persistent decline of real human connections.
RTP patrons entering the intimate theatre space are immediately transported to the UpStairs Lounge during pre-show activities where customers of the Lounge engage in conversations, order up drinks from the bar on stage and gather around the piano. The only thing that could make this part of the production a more immersive experience is if audience members could purchase drinks from the onstage bar a la ONCE THE MUSICAL.
Lucian Restivo gives his cast plenty of freedoms on the tiny stage, which makes for more natural interactions in the bar. Leilani Fenick's musical hand is strongest during group numbers such as, "Some Kind of Paradise," where dissonant voices blend perfectly together. As performers dance around the piano and around tables, Kikau Alvaro's choreography, though limited, feels like a genuine night at the bar. David Melton's supreme set design, adorned with timely photos, posters and other knickknacks, makes great use of the space. Michael Jarrett's lighting carefully highlights important moments throughout the production and emphasizes the most tragic. Ryan Allen's costume design befits the era.
New York actor Dale Sampson perfectly embodies the role of self-absorbed millennial Wes. He delivers on Vernon's punchy one-liners and sarcastic humor, and has a strong pop voice to boot. Luke Newsome, who was a delight in IT SHOULDA BEEN YOU, brings much charm as Patrick-but does not quite muster the pop vocals needed to carry the role.
Doug Schneider is enjoyable as the duplicitous piano man, Buddy, and sets the energy bar high during the opening number. Chloe Williams Green stands out during "The World Outside These Walls," though the sound mix doesn't always favor her powerful vocals. Tara Callahan is spirited as the religious Rita Mae. Michael Schimmele is an energetic presence as Freddy. John Mincks in a pivotal role as the hustler-turned-villain, while somewhat underused, carefully stresses the gloom of the story behind VIEW.
THE VIEW UPSTAIRS is an enjoyable and important look at a dark chapter in LGBT history. The production runs through September 2 at the Robert B. Moss Theatre.