Review: RELATIVE SPACE at Creekside Theatre Fest is Intense and Contemplative

RELATIVE SPACE: AN ATYPICAL MUSICAL plays through July 1, 2023.

By: Jun. 25, 2023
Review: RELATIVE SPACE at Creekside Theatre Fest is Intense and Contemplative

Creekside Theatre Fest is currently presenting the world premiere of RELATIVE SPACE: AN ATYPICAL MUSICAL at Liahona Preparatory Academy’s brand-new proscenium theatre in Pleasant Grove.  The show is an intense, thought-provoking exploration of mental illness and its generational impact that is assured to stimulate contemplative conversations among theatregoers. 

With Tony and Grammy-winning producer Van Dean, president of Broadway Records, and other luminaries shepherding the development process to Broadway, an industry reading is set to take place in New York City in October.

RELATIVE SPACE: AN ATYPICAL MUSICAL (book by Melissa Leilani Larson, original songs by Jeremy Long and Kjersti Long) is a 90-minute drama with echoes of NEXT TO NORMAL and LEOPOLDSTADT. A mother and daughter struggle with many of the same issues in parallel, lacking desire to work or go to school.  Will reaching that realization help them overcome their problems or, rather, perpetuate them?

Co-directors Shelby Noelle Gist and Joshua Long effectively mounted this complicated piece of theatre onstage for the first time, thoughtfully creating a visual framework for the words and music, bringing them to life. 

Local actors Elizabeth Golden as Shannon and Leah Carr as Britt both excel as they take on the monumental task of communicating internal struggle onstage.  Their performances are compelling, nuanced, and even more complex than first meets the eye. 

Rounding out the cast are M. Chase Grant as Ethan, Jeff Denison as Drew, and Ben Cummins as Robert, with a movement ensemble made up of Abigail Andrus, Lyric Ikeomu, Joleah Long, and Addie Wray Scott.

Singer Kjersti Long is a talented and authentic vocalist, and the live band is stellar, if a bit loud.  The lyrics are unfortunately often unintelligible, leaving the audience to rely on the sentiment of the engaging music to drive the emotion of the moment. 

Frankly, the current iteration of RELATIVE SPACE is not a musical, “atypical” or otherwise.  It is a straight play with a live-sung pop-rock soundtrack.  With all the music sung by the same person, regardless of her abilities, it adds a sameness to a piece that is already flirting with monotony due to its focus on just two actors and their characterizations over plot.

It would make a world of difference for the attention of the audience, the intensity of the impact, and the success of the show if the songs were sung by the two lead actresses in character.  By design, the narrative rarely rises above the mundane, as the real story is what is happening internally, so inviting us into their thoughts would help elevate our understanding and empathy.

There are times in the story in which the music is very effective in the background as the women emote, and singing might detract from those raw feelings, but these points could become even more powerful if the ensemble were to sing in addition to dance. 

The ensemble movement, choreographed by Joshua Long and Sophie Greenwood, is utilized successfully to emphasize the weight of depression.  The group’s presence is also partly functional in changing props and scenery, but laudably they do so in an artistic manner rather than purely perfunctorily.  However, sometimes it feels as if they are just marking time until a song has ended, and more expansive choreography would be welcomed in these instances. 

Partway through the show there is a major shift in the telling of the story that also repeats again in a different way a short time later.  It would spoil the experience to say any more, but suffice it to say that it is fascinating, meaningful, and unique.

After the storyline transfers back to its beginnings, a plot point involving a bottle of pills takes place that feels abrupt due to our time away.  If this were to take place right before the first change, it would add even more significance to the shifts and more drive for the audience to want to return.

A review of the design elements must take these multiple changes into consideration, so forgive any vagueness of description in order to avoid further spoilers. 

The set design by Brad Shelton, former resident designer at Tuacahn, is fitting and even thrilling at times.  The costume design by La Beene and hair/makeup design by Courtney Dilmore have a vital part to play and do so well. 

The orchestrations by Zach Hansen work well for the style of music, but they disappointingly do not shift along with the settings.  If they were to do so, the craftsmanship and storytelling would lift another level.  The lighting is also well designed by Lucas Russell, but it could do more to creatively spotlight the emotional states of the characters, especially if the show were to morph into a full musical. 

RELATIVE SPACE has much to recommend it and potential for even more resonance within the audience if reinvention is embraced as it moves forward in its journey.

RELATIVE SPACE: AN ATYPICAL MUSICAL plays through July 1, 2023. For the schedule and tickets, visit www.creeksidetheatrefest.org or www.relativespacemusical.com.

Photo Credit: Creekside Theatre Fest

 




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