Running now through April 13th at the Independence Studio on 3 at the Walnut Street Theatre is Jim Cartwright’s , The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. Opening in 1992 at the Royal National Theatre, this delightfgul play with music did a stint in London’s West End and then went on to Broadway two years later. In 1998 the film version starring Michael Caine and Brenda Blethyn was nominated for an Academy Award.
Little Voice (or L.V. as they call her) is a reclusive young woman who loves to sing and imperonate all the female chanteuses on her deceased father’s record collection. But she only performs alone upstairs in her bedroom. When her mother, Mari, (a domineering drunk of quiestionable morals) hooks up with the sleazy talent agent, Ray Say, the two conspire to exploit Little Voice’s innate talent.
Originally a British play, this strong directorial debut by Dan Olmstead has been Americanized and moves along at a jaunty pace. This production features a wonderfully cluttered set by Andrew Thompson. In the tight performance space of Studio 3 he has managed to install a kitchen, a living room, an upstairs bedroom with working window, two outside doors and an alleyway. The whole house is then converted into a nightclub by a large mylar curtain. The costumes by Katherine Fritz are deliciously fun with highly trashy outfits for the mother, Mari.
As Little Voice, not only does Ellie Mooney possess a lovely, sweet voice in her own right but her impersonations of Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Christine Kittrell, Barbra Streisand and many others are superlative. And her interpretation of an introverted girl whose life has been scarred by a neglectful mother is realistic and moving. Denise Whelan as Mari, dominates the play not only becuase she’s the one that does most of the talking but because of her feisty presence. Starting the play off with a bang by vomiting into the sink after a night of heavy boozing, Mari stumbles, careens, weaves and falls on the floor is different stages of inebriation. She is funny, loud, repulsive, cruel and ultimately pathetic. In short, she is a complex human being created by Mr. Cartwright and fully illuminated by Ms. Whelan. Anthony Lawton is almost sympathetic as the desparate, sleaze bag manager, Ray Say. So hungry is he for a legitimately talented act that we root for Little Voice to make his dreams come true. But his true selfish colors come to the fore when he doesn’t get what he wants. And his ultimate self-debasement in his swan song at the end is both comic and satisfying as Mr. Lawton has served up a character we love to hate. Jered McLenigan as the quiet Billy who seems like a chatterbox in comparison to Little Voice, is very endearing as the accidental hero who saves the day.Melissa Joy Hart as Mari’s almost mute friend, Sadie, captures as much comedy as can be crammed into this supporting role. And David Bardeen is quite the chameleon as both the Phone Man (Billy’s father) and Mr. Boo, an obnoxious, third rate comic and club owner.
It’s a charming piece with a little bit of everything for everyone.