… a terrific new musical is born …
Here is a really amazing idea – Songbird is a country music musical based in Chekhov’s The Seagull. While it stays quite close to the plot of the symbolist and heavily psychological end-of-the-19th century Russian drama, it soars on its own life-affirming wings.This exciting production with its all star-quality cast of singer-musician-actors, is set in Jason Sherwood’s stunningly beautiful interpretation of a honky-tonk bar, topped by gorgeously illuminated whiskey bottles in multi colors.
After a meteoric rise to fame, country music singer Tammy Trip, marvelously played, sung and danced by Kate Baldwin, returns to her roots near Nashville and the son she left behind who has been cared for by her best friend, Pauline. Tammy brings in tow her lover, the famous commercial songwriter Beck (Eric William Morris). Although she’s only a local, doing her singing in church, Pauline, played by Erin Dilly, is as terrific a country music singer as Tammy. This show is absolutely filled with music!
When her aspiring and clearly nervous song-writer son, Dean (Adam Cochran) and his girlfriend, Mia (Ephie Aardema), sing his new song, a mournful melody without pep, bulldozer Tammy is openly amused, bored and disruptive, humiliating him in front of everyone, a hard scene to watch, though beautifully played.
In despair, Dean goes off alone while most everyone else including Beck, Tammy’s brother Soren (Bob Stillman), Pauline and her husband Samuel Andy Taylor) , Pauline’s lover Doc (Drew McVety) and her daughter, Missy (Kacie Sheik) who loves Dean but eventually — in contrast to those characters in the play who, with varying results, refuse to settle — “settles” in her marriage with Rip (Don Guillory). Everybody’s family here, and everybody is completely musical, picking up guitars off the wall to accompany the singing – or the violin, tambourine, ukulele, mandolin and cello.
And where’s the seagull? A bluebird (of happiness) Dean hits with his truck stands in for the seagull but Mia – standing in for Chekhov’s ingénue Nina — has no patience with his grief, caught up with the glamour of the big-time visitors, envisioning a country music singing career for herself, and infatuated with the famous songwriter, Beck, with results that parallel those in Chekhov.
For all the connections with Chekhov, and all the story’s rich complexities of pure art and commerce, new forms and convention, love and jealousy, betrayal and death, the tone of SONGBIRD lifts off from the moody symbolism of Chekhov’s play into its own joy, rising on the wings of songs wonderful at the time they’re heard, though hard to remember after, and a clever, witty book. I have to think that – once he caught on to the idea — Chekhov would have loved SONGBIRD.
SONGBIRD plays at 59E59 Theaters through
November 29, 2015, extended to December 6th, 2015, and I’m sure that’s just the beginning for this terrific show — it doesn’t seem like a work in progress – it’s already all there. For more information and tickets, click here.
This is a remarkable theater piece. The performers showed a multitude of skills, singing, acting, and playing a whole variety of instruments. It’s a disquieting story but one that stays in one’s consciousness for some time. It may be overreaching to call this an American opera – however this is one way to see it. I hope that this piece will have a life after it closes at 59E59.