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LIFE COULD BE A DREAM Showcases Acting From Actors

Take a moment before the show when you attend the Round Barn Theatre to see "Life Could Be A Dream," and take a look at the mug shots of the actors in the program. You can't help but notice the photos bear no resemblance to the characters as played onstage during the fast-paced performance of this musical.

That's called acting.

Take Conor McGarry's earnest portrayal of Denny Varney, in whose basement most of the show takes place. He's the real dreamer of this show. Despite his mother's insistence that he "Get a Job," (and yes, that's one of the oldies in the show), he sees himself as the leader of this duet, ah, trio, no, quartet featuring five strong singers.

All the characters, like the fledgling doo-wop group Danny and the Dreamers, are a work in progress. Featuring Danny, Eugene, Wally, and Skip, they're practicing hard, preparing for a talent contest which they hope will be their stepping stone to fame and fortune. Along comes Lois, who hopes a little polish will push them over the top.

Cash Maciel is spot on as Eugene Johnson, the Nervous Norman of the bunch, who also effortlessly and consistently displays amazing vocal gymnastics throughout the evening, as in "Tears On My Pillow."

Steven Drake plays Wally Patton, the preacher's kid who is, if not holier-than-thou, at least appreciative of a good peanut butter and banana sandwich. In seeming to occupy a bigger space than his size, Drake's affable portrayal conceals then reveals a sharper edge to this character.

And Cody Davis presents a start contrast as Skip Henderson, the grease monkey from the wrong side of town, ostracized in both worlds he inhabits. Unlike the others who grow their identities, Davis as Skip immediately expresses the angst behind these seemingly upbeat numbers because the character has already done some heavy duty living.

I said this is called acting, but it's also called directing. David Craven has done yeoman's work at the Round Barn before, most recently in last season's magnificent "Happy Days." While "Life Could Be A Dream" is part of a lightweight genre known as the Jukebox Musical, typically featuring a string of readymade hits that sometimes are meant to compensate for a thin plot, in this case Craven had crafted, with his actors, strong, memorable characters that we care about. The show is, as the song says, "Just Like Romeo and Juliet," with star-crossed lovers from different worlds, only nobody gets killed and there's a happier ending. Thanks to Craven's guidance the musical provides characters worth caring about while never losing a sense of fun.

Craven also provides seamless choreography. It's perfect when it needs to be, but it also accomplishes the difficult task of being graceless and clumsy when it better suits the situation. Both are equally difficult. Kids, don't try this at home.

It's a part of economic and logistical reality that many musicals feature recorded music, usually of a very high quality, but "Life Could Be A Dream" should not be missed because it features a live ensemble consisting of Music Director Steven Zumbrun on keyboards, Jonathan Brown on drums, and Ji Hoon Kang on the Saxophone. As strong as the vocals are in this show, any time you want you can listen beyond the singers and you'll discover the accompaniment is every bit the equal of the onstage activity.

I hate to single out one performance in what is a uniformly strong ensemble, but Sarah Williams is True North when she sings "Unchained Melody" at the end of the first act. It's the strongest composition in the show, with the most poetic lyrics, and Williams provides the best performance of the evening. Whereas David Craven's choreography keeps the actors in constant motion consistent with the plot throughout, he has chosen to keep Williams very nearly stock still, strengthening our focus on her vocal and her acting. Her work is supported by the exceptional acrobatics of Ji Hoon Kang's saxophone accompaniment. There are many good reasons to return to see this show a second time, but this song merits a third visit.

Williams plays two roles, that of gratingly lovable Mrs. Varney, Denny's mother, as well as the queen bee Lois Franklin, the daughter of the owner of the local auto shop, which makes her royalty in this town. Her transformation from her father's daughter to her own person is one of five metamorphoses in the show, which also happens to be the theme for this season at the Round Barn. All the characters grow into the person they ought to be, something we see clearly in the final, fun numbers, "Pretty Little Angel Eyes," and "Rama Lama Ding Dong."

Notice that in the first line of this blog I said "when you attend the Round Barn," not "if." That's because a show that includes "Runaround Sue," "The Wanderer," "Earth Angel," "Only You," "The Glory of Love," and "Duke of Earl," along with many other songs including some I've mentioned earlier, pretty much compels you to go. The songs alone are worth the visit to the Round Barn.

But thanks to the work of David Craven, the cast, the ensemble, and everyone else involved in the show, "Life Could Be A Dream" will touch your heart as well.

Go see it.

The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres presents "Life Could Be A Dream," Written and Created by Roger Bean, Musical Arrangements by Roger Bean & Jon Newton, Additional Musical Arrangements by Steve Parsons, presented by Special arrangement with Stage Rights, Wednesdays through Sundays through May 12. For subscriptions, reservations and information call 800-800-4942 or go to amishacres.com


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