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Obsession at Croswell Opera House a fascinating musical premier (Review, kind of) November 8, 2011

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, musical theater, Musicals, Theatre.
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First, let me say right off the bat, it’s hard to review a workshop of a new show, even if it is fully staged. Because that is exactly what the production of OBSESSION, the musical (loosely based on Frankenstein) was this past weekend at the Croswell Opera House.

Fully staged and realized, the production was a fascinating look at a new musical in progress — originally written as a symphony and presented in Adrian, and now adapted as a stage musical, Betsy and Michael Lackey’s lyrical and tuneful musical takes risks not often seen at the local level. And how fortunate that Croswell Opera House was willing to take that risk to help develop this show.

I am not going to comment too much on the production itself, because if I did, I would end up in a long diatribe about how poorly directed it was, but how lovely it all looked and sounded. Let future directors find the humor and nuance in the script and score, and better manage the stage action.

What I will comment on are the tremendous performances, and the very strong musical score. Top to bottom the cast was top-notch and demonstrated excellent vocal technique. Michael Lackey (Henry/Monster); Eric Parker (Victor); Katy Kujala (Elizabeth); and Mackenzie Dryer (Justine) sang strong, confident roles. Deeply rooted in opera, the score demands a tremendous amount from the cast, and this group of performers delivered.

The score is particularly tuneful and sometimes outright stunning: “What I’d Give” has a lyrical line that ranks with the best Broadway-type pop ballads, but the entire score is lovely to listen to. The lyrics are clever and have a subtle sense of humor (not captured well in this production). The Croswell sound system made it difficult to understand some of the lyrics, particularly in the choral numbers. The show leans more toward the style of “Jekyll and Hyde” than more serious poperettas.

Is the show ready for prime time? No. Is it well on its way, yes. I would love to see the show again, after some tweeks have been made. My own thoughts as to improvements:

– There is too much music; scene changes occur rapidly (seconds) but musical rifts run for minutes with no action on stage. Some of this could be covered with better direction, but there is still too much of it. Standardize scene change music so that it cuts off once the scene has been changed, not continue just for the sake of continuing.

-The Entr’Acte is too long. Pull the main theme, add a countermelody, and roar to a quick finish. Two mintues is great. 5 minutes is too long.

-Eliminate the narration by the lead (Victor). Either incorporate it into the choral numbers, or eliminate it completely. With the exception of one or two short moments where action can be identified otherwise, the narration is superfluous and repetitive.

-Pay attention to the choral action: too many maids and butlers on stage just to sing choral backup is never a good idea. Put the chorus into the orchestra pit and let them sing backup. Find a better way to incorporate your ensemble onstage without just putting them on, and pulling them off. Its getting there –but its not there.

Overall, this was a fascinating and very well performed production that hopefully will lead to the necessary tweaks and future productions. I’d love to listen to this score over and over again, it’s sumptuous. But listening to versus seeing a show are two different things. It needs work, but it shows beyond tremendous potential — it deserves to be fixed and developed. Congrats to all involved — and keep working at this piece: there is really good here. It just needs some TLC.

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