On Cedar Street at Berkshire Theatre Group

World Premiere Musical

By: - Aug 20, 2023

On Cedar Street
Book by Emily Mann
Music by Lucy Simon and Carmel Dean
Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead
From the novel “Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf
Directed by Susan H. Schulman
Music direction by Kristin Stowell.
Choreography and associate direction by Terry Berliner
Scenic design, Reid Thompson

Berkshire Theatre Group
Unicorn Theatre
6 East St., Stockbridge

Through September 2

Cast: Stephen Bogardus (Louis Waters), Lana Gordon (Ruth Clark), C. Wilde Handel (Young Girl), Hayden Hoffman (Jamie Moore), Ben Rosenberry (Gene Moore), Dan Teixiera (Russell Beckman), Lauren Ward (Addie Moore), Lenny Wolpe (Lloyd Beckman), Addison (Charley)

On Cedar Street is an intimate, compact musical compressed into one long act on a busy, cluttered set. On Cedar Street which entails the late life romance of widow and widower in rural Colorado is having its world premiere at the Unicorn Theatre of Berkshire Theatre Group.

The actors serve as stage hands as the modular set (designed by Reid Thompson) of a rustic cabin in rural Colorado is in constant flux with a different configuration for each of many songs. There are video projections (Shawn Edward Boyle) on the pine paneled walls that become crucial in the final stages of the tautly wound plot.

Initially, we are intrigued when a large double bed is pulled out of a low mid-level wall. It simulates the bedroom where Addie Moore, strongly played by Lauren Ward the linchpin of the chamber musical, is suffering from insomnia. Tall, and slender with a compelling voice, she projects the simple unaffected beauty of a matronly woman of the woods.

Knocking on the door of a handsome neighbor Louis Waters (Stephen Bogardus) she makes him an offer he cannot refuse, with a hitch. He is invited to share her bed but strictly platonically. The surprised and credible response entices him to give it a try. The next night he arrives with pajamas in a brown paper bag. Looking out the bathroom window he wonders what the small town wags will think. Frankly my dear, she doesn’t give a damn. It’s the spunky independence we come to love about her.

With Hollywood looks and hay in his hair Louis is too John Denver to be true. He has lived alone in his cabin just going about his business for a long time. A back story emerges that he cheated on his wife who he later nursed through terminal illness. Addie has similar complications with a self-centered, messed up son (Ben Rosenberry) who was a factor in the accidental death of his sister. Both his marriage  and business are failing. As an unsuccessful father the key issue is what to do with his not thriving son Jamie.

As the drama progresses there is a cacophonous clutter of characters and subplots. Much of this is sketchy, overly complicated and would benefit from contraction. The most obvious of which is the well trained dog Charley given to Jamie to ease him out of his adolescent funk. The dog is cute and we wonder how he learns all the tricks but is it necessary?

Too predictably, Louis and Addie, while trying to keep the lid on ever growing complications, have progressed from companionship to relationship. Gene, the weakest link in this chain of events, won’t have it. The solution is for Jamie to live with his grandmother but not as long as that man shares her bed. Addie is forced to choose between saving her grandson and keeping her lover.

We suffer vertigo following all the scene changes and shifting plot points. Add to the mix Ruth Clark a small town pol strongly played by Lana Gordon. There’s a drought to contend with and the palpable threat (eventually realized) of catastrophic forest fire. Her necessary conservation regulations are opposed by the cantankerous contrarian Lloyd Beckman (Lenny Wolpe). He sings well but is never more than a sketch. His grandson Russell (Dan Teixiera) is mostly superfluous.

There is a lot of very good music in this production. Unfortunately, the program, fails to identify the many songs. While this world premiere is promising there is work yet to be done. What’s working for it last night was an elderly audience with palpable empathy for a merry widow.