Review: AUDREY, THE NEW MUSICAL at Creative Cauldron

A sweeping, stunning new musical!

By: Jun. 03, 2023
Review: AUDREY, THE NEW MUSICAL at Creative Cauldron
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Danielle Moore's Audrey, The New Musical about Audrey Hepburn, makes its DC premier in a limited run at Creative Cauldron, and the show is giving DC audiences a tantalizing first glimpse at a production with great potential. Moore is the creative force behind Audrey, having written the book and lyrics, and composed the score, and she has crafted a compelling story from Hepburn's fascinating and complex life.

Audrey interweaves flashbacks (from Hepburn's childhood during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in World War II) with scenes from her meteoric rise to stardom and her turbulent personal life, concluding with her decision to step away from the spotlight in the late 1960's.

Review: AUDREY, THE NEW MUSICAL at Creative Cauldron
Garrett Matthews as Gregory Peck and
Rebecca Ballinger as Audrey Hepburn,
Credit: William Gallagher

Veteran DC-area actor and Creative Cauldron alum Rebecca Ballinger (Audrey) not only exudes Hepburn's grace and charm, but she delivers a very credible version of the star's unusual accent, as well. Moore's libretto is full of clever dialogue; sadly, much of that dialogue was lost due to low level background noise from the theatre's ventilation system, and a cast-wide tendency to under-project. While much of Ballinger's delivery was noteworthy, she also exhibited a tendency to rush a lot of her dialogue - possibly in order to keep the pace of the scenes moving. Vocally, the role is challenging, and Ballinger's voice shines in the lower registers, but she really had to work to sing the higher notes of several songs, and her vocals often faded. She really connected with the audience in the big production numbers - Make a Spectacle and The Go-Go Lightly Drag in particular were two numbers where she really dazzled.

Much of the story is devoted to the men in Hepburn's life, and ensemble members Ricky Drummond (Bill Holden), Santiago Alfonzo Meza (Mel Ferrer), Garrett Matthews (Gregory Peck), and Patrick Mahoney (Humphrey Bogart) have all crafted fine renditions of Hepburn's leading men. Drummond, Meza and Tyler Cramer (Givenchy) in particular share great on stage chemistry with Ballinger, and Meza captures Ferrer's many moods in a very organic and effortless way. Although credited as Bogart, some of Mahoney's finest moments in the show come during his portrayal of a compassionate physician (and member of the Resistance) in the WWII flashback scenes. Among the female ensemble members, Bianca Lipford (Edith Head) steals every scene she's in, with an energy and sass that is infectious.

Any show about Audrey Hepburn has to pay homage to her many iconic looks, and the influence she had on fashion. Costume Designer Margie Jervis has done a noteworthy job of recreating many of the signature dresses that defined Hepburn's style, both on and off the silver screen. Jervis also served as the scenic designer for the production, crafting a versatile playing space that is defined by two large video projection flats in the upstage area. Projection Designer James Morrison's projections run the gamut from striking to mundane, but his work sets much of the mood, without distracting from the action in front of them, and he deserves credit for having a deft touch.

Director Laura Conners Hull keeps the action moving at a fairly brisk pace, and Music Director Merissa Driscoll has done great work preparing both the leads and ensemble to sing a score that is tricky in places, due to some awkward phrasing and unusual interval and registration choices by Moore.

(In the interest of full disclosure, this reviewer has worked with several people involved with this production.)

The inherent challenge with biographical stories about iconic performers is the question of what to leave in and what to leave out. Too often, writers become so engrossed in their subject matter that they find it difficult to condense and compress, and Audrey is no exception. Moore has written a strong book, but it needs to be pared down - there are too many subplots, and too much time is spent on the "behind-the-scenes" machinations that occur on any film set. Musically, Moore might have benefitted from having a collaborator or two - there are some good songs among the upbeat numbers in the show, but she leans too heavily on expository ballads, many of which feel and sound so similar that they become monotonous, and the audience tunes out - as evidenced by the lackluster applause after many of the slower numbers. Fresh input from another songwriter might bring a little more variety and spice to the music, while a red pencil in the hands of a trusted editor would go a long way to tightening up the book.

All of which is to be expected in a show that has only been mounted twice, and is still being refined and polished. There's a lot to like about the show, with many fine performances from a talented cast. This is a rare opportunity to see a new show, and then check back in on it as it continues to evolve. Audrey has a strong foundation, and we haven't seen the last of it on a DC stage.

Audrey is a visually stunning and glamorous look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the movie stars who captivated the public in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. It runs through June 4th, including a live streaming option on June 3rd, and it's suitable for all ages. Running time is approximately 2:15, with one intermission.

For more information about Creative Cauldron, click here.


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