Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Trinity Rep's World Premiere SONG OF SUMMER Hits All the Right Notes

Review: Trinity Rep's World Premiere SONG OF SUMMER Hits All the Right Notes

Trinity Rep commissioned playwright Lauren Yee to write SONG OF SUMMER for their company of actors, and the result is such a satisfying and wonderful play that you just want to give everyone involved a big hug. Naturally the casting is flawless, but Yee's dialogue and shrewd observations about growing up, falling in love, small towns and getting sucked into the maelstrom of fame are just so spot on it's almost dizzying. This show is the fresh breath of summer air we need at the end of March.

Charlie Thurston as Robbie is a musician riding high on his current hit, which is all anyone is talking about lately--though it's increasingly for its problematic lyrics. The show opens with Thurston performing his big song, gyrating his hips and thrusting, but all with a little less enthusiasm than one might think. At the end of his song, he stares into the distance and says "Happy Birthday, Tina." That kicks off a trip back to his hometown of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, a visit to his old piano teacher and a run-in with Tina.

What this play does so beautifully is show us how even though from the outside it looks like Robbie is a success, he's really just getting pushed along into what his agent thinks people want. He's had a physical makeover and is wearing a ridiculous shiny suit that looks like wallpaper in a south Florida condo; the lyrics of his song are not his, but rather new, edgier lyrics that are now being boycotted by feminist groups; and he seems generally lost. Thurston plays this role so perfectly. He looks the part of the polished, handsome singer, but his conversations with his agent Joe (Joe Wilson Jr.) reveal a kind of dopey musical wunderkind who you just want to protect from the big bad world.

Joe, as the agent, is primarily concerned with trying to make as much money as possible while the song is hot, and the dynamic between the two actors is fantastic. Joe Wilson Jr. is incredibly entertaining to watch when he's in a smaller character role and he really just gets to act as hard as he wants. He's almost cartoonish at times in his bombast, but it works so well contrasted with Thurston's more subdued demeanor--though it should be pointed out that as part of this play takes place in a Waffle House, Thurston tucks into a short stack of pancakes with a childlike gusto that is great.

Anne Scurria plays Mrs. C, Robbie's old piano teacher whose house he runs away to after that painful concert experience. The bulk of the set downstage is Mrs. C's living room, and set designer Adam Rigg get every detail absolutely perfect. The classic grandma couch patterned with flowers, sensible carpet in a color that doesn't stain too easily, a tin of Royal Dansk cookies--it's all there, and it feels so much like home you can easily see why Robbie would run straight there. Scurria's performance also welcomes you in with open arms. The second Robbie arrives she starts feeding him and showing him his old piano books.

Rounding out the cast is Tina Chilip as Tina, Mrs. C's daughter, and Robbie's former best friend, possibly only friend, who he hasn't spoken to in years. Tina had dreams of being a doctor, but got stuck in Pottsville working at a sleep clinic. Chilip comes out hot, ranting about Pottsville and being stuck in a dead-end town, but over time we learn that her bravado is a bit of a crutch. Her character reveal is slow and subtle, but she's also crude and hilarious and pulls no punches with Robbie. Since Robbie is a more laid-back guy, it's not surprising that the two people he interacts with most--Joe and Tina-- completely railroad him with their overwhelming personalities, but he does slowly learn how to say what he actually wants.

This play is such a pleasure to watch. The writing, the performances, the sets, the music are all so spot on--it feels lazy to call them perfect, but when you're watching it, they feel pretty perfect. At a 90 minute run time with no intermission, this play is just long enough to make us care about the characters, but not so long that it gets bogged down in overanalyzing what happens next. Like that perfect radio song, it's brief, but you want to experience it over and over again.

Tina Chilip as Tina and Charlie Thurston as Robbie. By Lauren Yee. Directed by Taibi Magar. Set design by Adam Rigg, costume design by Valérie Thérèse Bart, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Mikaal Sulamin. Photo by Mark Turek.

Performances run March 14 - April 14. Tickets are on sale by phone at (401) 351-4242, online at, or in person at the theater's box office at 201 Washington Street, Providence.

Winners Announced For The 2022 BroadwayWorld Rhode Island Awards Photo
The winners have been announced for the 2022 BroadwayWorld Rhode Island Awards, honoring the best in regional productions, touring shows, and more which had their first performance between October 1, 2021 through September 30, 2022.

Review: WERE GONNA DIE at Wilbury Theatre Group Photo
What did our critic think of WE'RE GONNA DIE at Wilbury Theatre Group?

FirstWorks to Light Up Providence G Ballroom With Performance By Hip-Hop Dance Duo The Won Photo
FirstWorks, a Providence-based nonprofit dedicated to connecting art with audiences, will present Boston-based street dance pioneers The Wondertwins in an entertaining night of dance moves reflecting old-school hip-hop, street style, Broadway and more.

Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen Will Receive Lifetime Achievement Award at Trinity Rep Pel Photo
Trinity Repertory Company has announced that award-winning actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen will be honored with the 2023 Pell Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

From This Author - Andria Tieman

Review: Mean Girls Can't Make Fetch Happen at PPACReview: Mean Girls Can't Make Fetch Happen at PPAC
October 5, 2022

It’s a little bit surprising that the film version of Mean Girls was both a good movie, and also a hit.  Based on a non-fiction book about high school cliques that was aimed at parents and teens, it was transformed into a charming comedy by Tina Fey in 2004. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that the creators could get lightning to strike twice by transforming this beloved story into a Broadway musical, but despite the myriad talents of Fey and music director Jeff Richmond, Mean Girls The Musical can’t capture the magic of the film and feels rather underwhelming.

BWW Review: Heartfelt DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Providence Performing Arts CenterBWW Review: Heartfelt DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Providence Performing Arts Center
April 6, 2022

BWW's Critic Writes 'We’ve probably all been in a situation where a white lie or a misunderstanding ballooned into something bigger and unexpected.  DEAR EVAN HANSEN takes this idea and turns it up to eleven when teenage Evan Hansen becomes linked to a classmate who commits suicide.  It’s an interesting examination of how in mourning, we may try to rewrite the narrative of a dead person’s life, but there’s no way to get past the icky feeling that Evan’s actions leave, despite catchy songs and excellent performances.'

BWW Review: An Officer and a Gentleman at Providence Performing Arts CenterBWW Review: An Officer and a Gentleman at Providence Performing Arts Center
February 20, 2022

The movie An Officer and a Gentleman came out in 1982 to both critical and popular acclaim, but turning this story into a jukebox musical many years later seems like a strange choice.  The cast in this touring production are across the board excellent, but some of the musical choices seem forced, and the plot seems torn between conveying the serious themes of the movie and wanting to lean into the more cheesy aspects of the 80s.  The result is an odd hodgepodge that suffers from an identity crisis, but is still entertaining thanks to the efforts and talents of the cast.

BWW Review: The Gamm's AN OCTOROON Is Not To Be MissedBWW Review: The Gamm's AN OCTOROON Is Not To Be Missed
February 2, 2022

In AN OCTOROON, Jacobs-Jenkins seems to delight in taking audiences on a shock-and-awe tour through America’s history and present. In turns horrifying and hilarious, this work manages to elicit almost every emotion a human being can feel as it burrows into your psyche.