Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Not One To Pass On

Love. It knows no age. From middle school crushes to full- fledged romances, watching love blossom can be a beautiful thing. In Passing By, an understated new musical by Patrick Thompson, the romance of Jenny and Edison are chronicled as the seasons pass by and time floats on.
Told through almost simultaneous parallel stories, Passing By tells the tale of boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl conflict, boy and girl depart, and boy and girl realize that they are true soul mates. With a Wisconsin farm as the backdrop, Passing By is not be a new story but it's something beautiful to watch. Thompson captures the essence of young love. We get to watch Jenny and Edison's journey as both kids and young adults. While age does cause some conflict to feel minimal, the story is accessible and timeless. Thompson's book isn't perfect. In fact, it's varied. Thompson's structure goes from book musical to suddenly abandon dialogue to make way for a song cycle style. Deciding which journey tells the stronger story is key. Passing By could use from trimming and become a single act piece. And also could benefit from strengthen the second half. Everyone loves a happy ending, except when it's schlocky. Love is ambiguous. And so should the ending. While the book needs work, the score does not. It's quite incredible actually. Thompson's music is intricate and purposeful. It's difficult but not overt. The way he changes time signatures within songs is beautifully subtle yet clear.
Unlike some other NYMF offerings, Passing By features a completely out of town cast. It's a giant risk that paid off pretty well. As Edison, Doug Clemons has all the qualities of an endearing romantic leading man. With a strong vocal and boundless charm, Clemons only has to smile to say a thousand words. Doug Clemons may be a Wisconsin local but he could be a star in New York. As Jenny, Sally Staats took a very passive approach. She was laid back and could have used a bit more bite in her fight. The majority of Thompson’s music fit well in her voice except when it hit her upper register. To play the younger versions of Jenny and Ediston, Harper Navin and Benjamin Usatinsky did a mighty fine job. Navin and Usatinsky are both youthful actors but some of their choices were big, bold, and beautiful.
To bring this musical to life, Patrick Thompson does everything. As the writer, he also takes on the director chair as well as scenic designer in addition to music director and pianist. For the most part, Thompson did a good fine carrying the weight of the entire production but for the future, taking a step back as director would be a strong decision. Stuck at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, a space that’s not too conducive for a well staged musical, Thompson didn’t quite have options to explore. Limitations aside, there was room to build. The sole scenic element was a storybook-esque structure that featured the same tree through each season. It was a clever touch for this space.
Passing By is a show that may be trumped by the larger scale productions of the festival, but it certainly should not be forgotten. Patrick Thompson is a promising writer and Passing By has the potential for greatness. Cross your fingers the right eyes saw the promise in this beautiful musical.