Sunday, July 12, 2015

Review: A Spot to Remember

Sometimes the simplest of concepts make for the most glorious productions. Glitz and glamour, flash and pizzazz are not always necessary in musical theater. And it’s certainly proven in the picturesque Spot On the Wall by Kevin Jaeger and Alex Mitchell.
A story about a young photographer and dealing with loss, Spot On the Wall follows Paul Hunter as he is about to have a gallery opening of his work celebrating the final moments of his mother. But before the glorious evening can commence, secrets are revealed, fears are rectified, and three men grieve and celebrate a woman they all loved in such different ways. With book and lyrics by Jaeger and music by Mitchell, Spot On the Wall is the sleeper hit of NYMF 2015. Spot On the Wall is a celebration of love and life and the thread that brings it all together. The book by Jaeger offers clear and consistent characters. We see an ambitious young man looking for closure, an ambitious young woman who’s eager to start a new chapter of her life and career, and two jaded men who will always be bound together despite their jealousy for one another. When they’re all brought together, they work so harmoniously to tell the story. On paper, the story sounds dull but Jaeger paints a picture through his words that makes the piece captivating. Jaeger layers the reveals in a dazzling manner that the potentially over-the-top plotlines seem natural. With a pretty solid book, Spot On the Wall, has a score that is vital and exquisite. Jaeger’s lyrics are wonderful but take them away and simply listen to Alex Mitchell’s music, you have songs that can soar on their own. Mitchell’s sweeping score is breathtaking. Without a flashy “up-tempo” number, Mitchell still manages to captivate the audience. As a team Jaeger and Mitchell are a dynamic duo and have a lasting theatrical relationship but don’t be surprised to find Mitchell high in demand!
photo by Jenny Anderson
It’s quite possible that a mediocre cast would have sounded incredible with the material Jaeger and Mitchell provided but thankfully, Jaeger and Mitchell found a top notch cast to breathe life into their work. As Paul, Robert Hager is a star. Hager was resilient and charming. His character was accessible. Even when he wasn’t present, you yearned for him. Vocally, Hager’s prowess sat perfectly in Mitchell’s score. Madison Stratton as Laurel is illuminating. Stratton dominated the stage, contributing a gamut of strength. Stratton has impeccable comedic timing as well as knowing when to turn up the sentimentality. Stratton is a star in the making. Neal Mayer and Charles West as rivals Father and Curator respectively gave strong performances. Mayer, for the most part, was stern, but when he opened up, it was glorious. West took a more neurotic route for his character. While it came off a bit hokey at first, he grew into it as time passed on. Lisa Kuhnen and Michael Warrell dazzled. Kuhnen and Warrell were more than just talented dancers, they epitomized what this piece celebrates.
Director Devin Dunne Cannon had all the right parts working for her. With an exceptional piece and an accomplished company, Cannon managed to bring it all together in a wonderful way. At first, having her company participate on stage as the audience entered and as the neverending preshow announcement boasted on, you had to wonder why. Was this a sign of poor decisions to come. With minor staging exceptions, we got anything but. Cannon guided her actors through the emotions of life, love, and loss through the museum of memory. She was aided by the flawless choreography by Allicia Lawson. Lawson worked Kuhnen and Warrell tirelessly and it paid off. Lawson’s choreography prevented Kuhnen and Warrell from becoming just a device. Spot On the Wall also did something incredibly unique that worked wonders. Mitchell and music director Mike Rosengarten did not use a piano once in the score. And it was absolutely stunning. The orchestrations, left solely to guitar, violin, and bass, gave the production something special. We’re so used to hearing the plunk of a piano or keyboard in musical theater. To be free from it for once was mesmerizing.
Art is forever. That’s one of the many messages Spot On the Wall offers. Art, in it’s many forms, is a way to remember the memories we hold so close. There is a spot in the future of musical theater for Jaeger and Mitchell and this piece. Spot On the Wall is an intimate piece and can only survive in an intimate space. Finding the right place to hang it in next will be the key.