Barrington Stage Company’s Musical Theatre Lab is a fertile ground for developing new artists and not-so-new artists who are themselves exploring new ideas. It is a testament to the company’s belief that without investment there is no dividend. And BSC also recognizes that no one can predict the future life of any new work. BSC’s commitment is both laudatory and enviable. Their track record is certainly to be admired. A Little More Alive is this season’s project from the Musical Lab and, unlike some previous productions, this is not a world premiere, but I think it’s probably fair to assume that Nick Blaemire (book, music and lyrics) has continued to refine his work.
Nate (Van Hughes) and Jeremy (Michael Tacconi) are brothers brought together for their mother’s funeral. As they help their father sort out her things, they come across a collection of love letters and this discovery sets in motion an avalanche of long-held and long-repressed memories. The brothers aim to protect Gene (Daniel Jenkins), their father, by confronting the man they believe to have been their mother’s lover, and they are joined by Lizzie (Emily Walton), a hospice-care worker who had cared for their dying mother.
It’s at this point that the story becomes more theatrical than credible, but it all moves along with propulsive energy and there’s little time to ask questions.
Music dominates the evening and what spoken dialogue there is doesn’t get much beyond the rudimentary. Characters confront each other about their past lives, about the ‘truth’ of the family’s kinship. And Lizzie, who is unable to move ahead with her own life and manages to impose herself in the intimate affairs of the Fuller family without them taking particular notice, is something of a plot device more than she is a three-dimensional character. (Molly [Futaba Shioda], appears late in the story and is nothing more than a necessary cog for Blaemire to tie up plot lines – she deserves serious rethinking.)
The score comprises more than a dozen songs, most of which favour a folk-rock style not unlike songs from ‘Rent’, ‘Spring Awakening’ and, maybe most of all, ‘Falsettos’, the masterwork by William Finn, the man largely responsible for the BSC Musical Theatre Lab. Some songs are standalone and others blend recitative with aria, and most end with similar finale/anthem-like punctuation. Finally, what begins as interesting soon becomes repetitive and then continues to be more so. The production benefits from strong performances and excellent musical direction and, again touting BSC’s strengths, the design elements support the work well beyond what most development projects receive.
Hughes has a big voice and expansive vocal range. His performance is physically alive and dominates the St. Germain stage. Talented though he is, there’s a ‘watch-me-now’ quality to the performance that wears thin long before the final blackout. Tacconi, with a more modulated technique, is a good balance as the younger brother. Jenkins’ skill at underplaying adds humanity to writing that comes close to unearned sentimentality. Walton, who replaced Nicolette Robinson the evening I attended, has a lovely voice, a quiet strength and personal charm that help to get past the underwritten character that she plays. Shioda, also a replacement – covering for Walton, who originally played Molly – is feisty, as required. As noted earlier, the role is a plot device and one that sings, too. Shioda is just fine with the song, but it comes too late and adds nothing that we don’t already know.
“A Little More Alive” takes on a dark subject without apology. Blaemire investigates the power of memory and the complexities of family. He talks and sings of ‘home’ – where it is, how we get there, when and why we return. The themes are universal and eternal, to be sure, and although there is more work to be done, Blaemire appears to know where he is headed.
Return to Home Page