Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: No Exit in ValueVille

Discovering a new idea for musical can sometimes be difficult. Finding a story that will not only be intriguing and unique yet entertaining and accessible is the goal of many writers. In ValueVille, written by Rowen Casey, a new nightshift employee enters the mysterious superstar seeking answers to why he’s there all while he’s forced to face the past.
photo courtesy of Ryan Jensen
Casey’s ValueVille is a story about Eddie, who’s recently MFAed and working at a less than ideal temporary job alongside his former friend Meg. As the night gets underway, he meets his creepy manager Don and three interesting employees including loudmouthed Sharonda, womanizer Yeah-Yeah, and pop culture obsessed Stacy, who break him into the ValueVille way. Things begin to go awry as Eddie tries to leave and soon discovers there’s no exit. By this point what once was a seemingly realistic story about a store and young people has turned into a surrealistic purgatory nightmare story. The purgatory structure is nothing new. Casey has devised an incredibly intellectual and intricate story. The rules of the world are quite confusing and often breakable. While the ambiguity is commendable it allows for inconsistency. Who exactly are these people? How did they get here? Why are they here? Are they dead? Where do they go after the automatic doors do open? ValueVille suffered from not knowing what it wanted to be. With moments of severe drama to complete camp, the balance was off kilter. Director Donna Lynne Champlin's slow pacing of the show allowed for the tender moments to not quite land. Rowan Casey's score is the selling point of the show. “All For You” sung with soul by Patti Allison was a tear jerking moment. “Heart & Soul” is one of the most stunning moments and wanted so badly to be the ending of the show. While it's always risky to do the unexpected, the intellectual ending did not pay off. For a story that is so grim, allowing the audience to leave with hope was almost more desirable.
The ensemble featured a mishmash of talent. David Spadora is a wonderfully understated leading man with a subtly beautiful and soothing voice. Spadora has the charm and appeal of a film star. His character was our way into the world and often seemed confused as to what direction his character was supposed to take. Natasha Yvette Williams is a vocal powerhouse. Her big number, “Live Like You Dream” was a gorgeous eleven o'clock number. Emily Koch as Meg had a unique aura to her, but the lack of clarity in her arc allowed for a puzzling performance. Christopher Sutton as Don gave a Christian Borle-esque performance, bringing sinister to life.
The superstar purgatory designed by Patrick Rizzotti with shopping carts and chairs was sparse. Cory Pattak kept the florescent light theme during the book scenes adding a colorful pallet during musical numbers. However it was quite unfortunate to hear the scrollers during some of the more beautiful songs including Natasha Yvette Williams’ big number. With the rules of the world already confusing, director Champlin’s use of live microphones was an interesting choice. Sure, the store would have a PA system, however when they were used, including musical numbers and when not necessarily speaking over the PA made it a questionable decision. 
Despite a vague marketing plan, ValueVille is unique. Casey does what many are afraid to do, but ValueVille may want to call corporate for a script doctor to clean up in the aisles between songs.