Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: Run "Freedom" Run

By Michael Block

Very seldom do we, the theater community, get to watch the journey of a new musical as it goes from one tiny thing to something bigger. Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk had created a musical to which their songs captured acclaim from young musical theater kids before the show really became a “thing.” Go on YouTube and look at just how many covers of “Freedom” there are. The piece took many shapes and turns before finding a how with Prospect Theater Company as The Mad Ones. But not every journey is smooth sailing and not every destination is paradise. The Mad Ones showcases their duo’s catchy score but the thin story proves that there is a spark missing.
Kerrigan and Lowdermilk’s The Mad Ones, formally known as The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, is the non-sequential story of Sam, a young woman who is raring to get out and see the world and see the world with her best friend Kelly. But after the untimely death of her best friend, Sam must reevaluate her future through her journey of self-discovery. At its core, The Mad Ones is a journey through grief. And yet Sam, the central protagonist, has a focus on other teenage woes like boys, driving tests, and college. Sam is cookie-cutter perfect. Kelly, the true mad one of the pair, is not. And thus, when we learn about her death, it doesn’t come as a shock. With the non-linear approach as the conceit of the show, Kelly is present on stage throughout Sam’s emotional expedition. She is the constant opposition to Sam’s future-focused mom Beverly and her lackadaisical and too-good-to-be-true boyfriend Adam. Whether it’s the nature of the storytelling or the lack of depth from the character, The Mad Ones desperately longs for higher stakes. Which is shocking as the stakes are pretty damn high already. What The Mad Ones does offer is an exceptional score. From “Freedom” to “Run Away With Me,” Kerrigan and Lowdermilk know how to craft an album ready hit. But at the end of the day, The Mad Ones is not a concept album, it’s a fully realized musical that still needs to find itself, just like Sam.
photo by Richard Turmine
The four-piece ensemble is top-notch, especially in the vocal department. They provide exquisite vocals that transcend the genre. As Sam, Krystina Alabado is precious and shatterproof, at least that’s what she gives off to those around her. She is a high-striving person who just wants to do something different. Alabado exemplifies precision in her performance, but often comes off as a bit too calculated, especially compared to the free-wheeling Kelly, played by Emma Hunton. Hunton has a booming voice and rasp in her tone that makes you believe she’s seen it all. Even as the more daring of the two, Hunton’s Kelly is grounded and vulnerable. Albado and Hunton have a great balance, but Hunton gives that slight edge. Leah Hocking as Beverly is a dynamo. Even with her minimal stage time, she uses it wisely. Jay Armstrong Johnson eases into the role of Adam. With a slight stoner demeanor, his lovability is the draw.
Directed by Stephan Brackett, the musical moves along gracefully. Brackett finds the charm and heart of the themes through the minimal and effective staging. Allowing the music and words to take focus, there are few bells and whistles to Adam Rigg’s set. The clean line and bleacher-style set up allowed for Bracket to explore levels while giving David Lander a lighting designer’s dream show. With the ability to define the mood through color, Lander’s expressive lighting design was a true standout in this production. Despite a realistic approach to the costumes, Jessica Pabst dressed the characters in a bit of a pedestrian manner. You certainly can say they were genuine for the characters, but they still felt as if they were from the actors’ closet and they were standing in for a dress rehearsal while waiting for the real looks.
The hype surrounding The Mad Ones was strong. Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are a songwriting dream team of tomorrow, but The Mad Ones, as a book musical, isn’t the piece that will propel them to superstardom. But fret not, it’s bound to happen. Prospect Theater Company is known for fostering new musicals, but it seems they were hoping the music would allow the musical to stand on its own rather than develop it with one final workshop.