AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Prince Music Theater
1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA
Through January 2, 2005
Box Office: (215)569-9700

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

If "Chasing Nicolette", the new musical about young love in the Middle Ages currently at the Prince Music Theater, doesn't eventually go to Broadway - then there's something disturbingly wrong with Broadway. Here is a show with a clear and clever book written in rhyming verse with lyrics that are cogent and funny by Peter Kellogg. The music by David Friedman is melodically lovely and memorable. The story is based on a French Medieval Romance, "Aucassin and Nicolette", written in the 13th Century by Anonymous, concerning two young lovers. Aucassin is a French, Christian nobleman and Nicolette is a Moorish Muslim serving girl living in a time of war, prejudice and religious intolerance. Its parallels to today are striking.

From the opening strains of the overture I was drawn in - for there were melodies to listen to. The opening number, though all too short (I'm sure in the Broadway version it will be bigger, longer and stronger) made it clear where I was and what world I was in -- the year 1224. In other words it did everything an opening number should do. I was hooked and for the rest of the afternoon (it was a matinee) entranced. There are wonderful lyrical songs like "Now and Forever" sung by the lovers, "Stanger and Stranger" sung by the ensemble and a potential show stopper "Romance" sung by the characters Valere and Montescu. Then there are terrific comic songs like "You Have to Lie", "Do Nothing" and "I'm Not Upset".

Bronson Pinchot stars as Valere, the servant/sidekick who helps the young lovers on a chase across France and North Africa. But "stars" is a poor choice of words, because Mr. Pinchot is hard pressed to shine brighter than any of the other incredibly seasoned musical theater performers he is working with -- the likes of which make this show the successful piece of theater it is. Allow me to enumerate in no particular order of preference.

First, there's Bill Buell, Aucassin's unhappy father who does such monstrously awful sounding things to his voice to achieve the comic effects he does in the song, "I'm Not Upset", that I hope he's not hurting himself. Of course the audience doesn't care because they're laughing. But, I care, Bill I care! (So, I hope you're on support and when you're not you're sucking on zinc lozenges.) Anyway, he's wonderful. Second, there is the King of Carthage, Montansir, Nicollette's unhappy father played by Kingsley Leggs with true majesty and a masterful deep voice. Thirdly, Richard White is simply marvelous as the big, blustery, powerfully voiced Count de Valence, whose massive steps make the earth tremble. (Won't somebody write a musical for this guy?) Number Four is Dale Radunz who just is the faithful Montescu with a great voice to boot. Number Five is Rebecca Bellingham, a seemingly stratospheric soprano who plays the dumb blonde with great intelligence. Oh, and she's beautiful too! Number Six, Davis Duffield an engaging and believable actor with a fine voice who is perfectly cast as the young, handsome Aucassin. Number Seven, Jasika Nicole Pruitt as the sweet and demur, though not quite innocent (as she's already been in the hay with Aucasssin) Nicolette. Her voice has the quality of a Disney recording artist and her persona is perfectly at home in the limelight.

In all fairness to Mr. Pinchot, I have always felt that he was a very funny comic actor and I did not dislike his performance per se. But it is a question of levels. Somehow it seemed as if Mr. Pinchot was playing in the filmed version of this musical while the rest of the cast was playing in the staged one. He just needs to ratchet up his performance level and energy to meet the rest of his very hammy, very funny, very talented cast.

I can't say that there aren't a few minor things that can be cut from the second act to expedite the storytelling. But other than that and the fact that with an immediate reprise, the song, "Romance" could be a real showstopper (a la "Brush Up Your Shakespeare"), this show is nearly perfect. One dead giveaway is when you look back over the program and realize that you can actually remember all of the songs - and can even hum a bar or two. But, a word of caution to the promoters. I don't think that selling this as a family show is a good idea. Bouncing a nun up in the air on top of a man and having her enjoy it - is not what I'd call family fare. In fact it might even be offensive to some fervent Catholics. You see, not everybody knows that in the Middle Ages the church was very often a road to survival and not just a road to God.

A word of caution to theatergoers: It only runs until Jan. 2nd so hurry up and go!

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