BWW Review: Playwright Pens Incredible New Musical Genre, Steampop With MELINA: A STEAMPUNK MUSICAL TR at Carrollwood Cultural Center The Studio
Love, loss, trial, and tribulation have existed as the backdrops of theatrical performances for centuries, but not quite this way. Tonight at Carrollwood Cultural Center, in front of family, friends, and Kickstarter supporters, Gretchen Suarez-Pena birthed a new genre - Steampop- with the debut of the staged reading of her new Steampunk musical, Melina: A Steampunk Musical Tragedy.
To understand the background of the musical, steampunk denotes works set in a world where steam power is still widely used, featuring prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. In 2006, a song on the radio inspired the award-winning playwright to pen a one-act in 2009. She revisited the play seven years later to metamorphosis into a musical.
"While listening to Helena by Nickel Creek, I envisioned a man with a top hat and in Victorian attire declaring his love to a girl that is sweet and coy, but not at all what she seemed. Her sweetness is her manipulative charm, and he is leaving his current love to be with her, only to realize that he would later be left alone," says Gretchen.
In fabulous Victorian-styled costumes designed by visual artist Jacob Reilly and seamstress Glori Snow, a truly ensemble cast of Jacob, Alyssa Yates, Dion Spires, Siobhan Gale, Ashely O'Connor, Eric Sanchez, Julie Newton, Chad Sell, Logan Harris, Destiny Velez, Edel Nazario, and Daniques Calloway succinctly fused an operaesque drama with comedic barbs, catchy tunes, romantic and haunting ballads, and a future girls' anthem. Written by Gretchen and orchestrated and arranged by the Tyler Anderson and Jonathan Gautier, this music will quickly get stuck in your head.
Effortlessly narrated by Jacob, the production never lags, the pace expertly helmed by a singer with perfect pitch as displayed in "The Tale," and "The Tango of Losing Dream," a sensational, melodramatic voice, knowing looks, and snapping fingers.
Set in the fictional steampunk town of New Comen, Melina tells the story of the love triangle between the innocent Mara, a poor aspiring vocalist, the inventor's unscrupulous vixen assistant, Melina, and Jacob, the heir to the throne. Melina is working on a machine to manipulate time.
Though we never honestly know what drives Melina, Siobhan expertly portrays her as cruel with her affection as she is casual about her sexuality. She lures Jacob away from his fairytale one true love, carelessly drops him, and returns later with an infant daughter. The unwelcome child, Melina, called Mel, heartbreakingly played by Julie, changes his anticipated life's path from the future ruler of the realm to disgraced and disavowed by his family. Mel grows up under the weight of her father's resentment.
Dion gives Jacob just the right amount of arrogance and condescension that when he falls from grace, I am pleased he is getting a taste of his own medicine. His relationship with his child - his self-proclaimed burden to bear - makes me want to smack him, proving what an outstanding actor this young man is.
Jacob's powerful voice is equally paired with his leading ladies, two strong female singers.
"Pay No Mind" is Melina's siren song and showcases Siobhan's outstanding vocals.
You only need to hear it once to know "Wishes" is the future anthem of young girls everywhere. Alyssa gives Mara a sweet naivety, paired with a gorgeous voice that is goosebump worthy.
While Jacob falls out of favor, Mara is comforted by Jeremiah, a producer who becomes enchanted by the heartbroken singer. Eric impeccably portrays Jeremiah as a true romantic, a poet, a gentleman that wants nothing more than to give the world to the woman he worships.
"Some Men" is Jeremiah's beautiful love letter to Mara.
With their marriage and birth of Mara and Jeremiah's son, the story moves forward to the inevitable meeting between Jacob's isolated and reviled inventor daughter and Mara's lonesome vocalist son.
Playing the son born into a musical career that he wants to escape, Chad has incredible pipes. He is the perfect counter match to Julie's subdued, fornlorn Mel, whose only friends are the gadgets in her lab. She is diligently working on a machine, that unbeknownst to her is her own mother's time machine.
Of course, Darian and Mel become entangled like their parents before, but that's where any predictability of the new love story ends.
While every singer gives an impeccable performance, some of my favorite musical moments come from the four sets of couples and the two women.
"Loving a Woman" showcases Dion and Eric. "Marriage Ballad" pairs the trio of Alyssa, Siobhan, and Dion. "Like Lovers Reprise" displays the vocal and dance talents of Chad and Julie. "Mercy & Justice" marries the exquisite vocals of Alyssa and Siobhan.
"Remake Me" is a haunting duet between an older Jacob and Mara that I've been listening to on repeat. I can easily visualize Alyssa and Dion as a Steampunk Christine and the Phantom. It has that type of intensity. The harmonizing is, simply put, outstanding.
Mara's best friend and loyal protector, Aimee, is played with the ultimate badass-itude by Ashley. Blessed with quick quips and facial expressions that speak volumes without words, Aimee is the henchwoman, the jester, earning most of the laughs of the evening. But when Ashley opens her mouth to sing, I am shocked to hear her hit soprano high notes that would have been dangerous to glassware.
Melina: A Steampunk Musical is a dash of Shakespeare, a dollop of Jules Verne, a pinch of Sherlock Holmes, a smidgen of Phantom of the Opera, and a splash of Greek tragedy mixed with an utterly original pop opera. It is something that you'll definitely want to support to get to future theatre festivals, and way beyond staged readings to a real set and props, lighting and sound, to fully realize this incredible Steampunk/Steampop vision inside of Gretchen's head.