See Rock City & Other Destinations at Barrington Stage Company

A Musical Tour About Love, Fear and Commitment

By: - Aug 19, 2008

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See Rock City & Other Destinations Book and Lyrics by Adam Mathias, Music by Brad Alexander. Directed by Kevin Del Aguila. Featuring Jill Abramovitz, John Jellison, Gwen Hollander, David Rossmer, Benjamin Schrader, Welsey Taylor, Cassie Wooley. Scenic Design by Brian Prather, Costume Design by Mark Mariani, Lighting Design by David F. Segal, Sound Design by Jillian Walker, Press Representative, Charlie Siedenburg; Vocal Arrangements, Brad Alexander & Justin Hatchimonji, Casting, McCorkle Casting, Ltd., Joe Lopick, Other Stages Producer Mary Porter Hall, Music Director, Vadim Feichtner, Production Stage Manager, Wesley Apfel. Artistic Producer, Musical Theatre Lab, William Finn. At Barrington Stage Company, Stage 2/VFW Hall Musical Theatre Lab, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield. Running time: 1:30, no intermission. Through August 26.

Good things come in threes. See Rock City and Other Destinations is the third offering in the third year of Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab. There are six musical scenes in the production, half of which are well crafted theatrical moments, while three clearly need more work.  

As the series of Lost Broadway CD's clearly demonstrates, many a great song has been cut out in order to give a show a better flow. It was a long rough path most musicals used to take during their weeks and months on the road during pre-Broadway tryouts.  The good news is that this newborn musical is quite far advanced, thanks to  the immensely important help of the modestly scaled incubator known as the Barrington Stage 2 Musical Theatre Lab.

The most winning scenes happen during the middle of the show, which could be described as a musical road trip.  The scenery changes along with the characters.  And they all have one thing in common: they are afraid. Some are fearful of relationships, or taking risks, others at facing who they really are.  It may seem odd to use the concept of "being afraid" as the foundation for a musical. But it is not that unusual considering the age we are living in. In this revival of the age of anxiety, there is nothing more fear-inducing than our own uncertainties.

But as this musical travelogue proves,  there can be hope in the midst of despair.

In Rock City's most memorable scene, "Remember the Alamo," Lauren is taking her Grampy on his annual outing to the Alamo. It's where he had met his wife. At the moment they met, he heard a voice tell him "This is the one you will love forever." It proved true.

Cassie Wooley as Lauren has given up her own dreams to care for her stroke-afflicted Gramps. "All There is to Say" is her anthem in which it is clear that she has put her family first.  As Grampy, John Jellison is a convincing stroke victim, complete with drooping mouth, mangled speech and palsied hand. In a brief flashback he is restored to his youth during "Grampy's Song." In a strong and vital voice he sings of the past, only to be returned to the present.

Meantime, Lauren meets a lawyer (David Rossmer) exchanging phone numbers are we hear a voice declare that "This is the one you will love forever." The moment was twice as touching since it arrived out of the blue, a gift of serendipity, and the writers.

Equally delightful was  'Crossing Glacier Bay". Three sisters (Gwen Hollander, Jill Abramovitz and Cassie Wooley) are gathered there to spread their father's ashes over his once favorite spot. Clearly the siblings have not been reunited in some time. Awkward, bickering, and unable to find their earlier sisterly relationships, they are unhappy and unable to enjoy the reunion.  Then one of them sings a snippet of a song they all once knew:  "Three Fair Queens of the Far North are We." It had been written for them as children by their dad in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan. Soon they are all singing it once again, with joy and gusto.

With some light choreography and good humor, the trio finally connects and share in an important moment. Here the blending of music, lyrics and book was absolutely magical. Composer Brad Alexander and Lyricist-Book writer Adam Mathias have crafted a true keeper.

The next stop is the "Coney Island Spook House" in which Benjamin Schrader and Wesley Taylor portray teens playing hooky who take a "Q Train to Coney Island. " Their scene contains enough schoolboy antics to fill a book of clichés. The pals first set out to prove how tough each is in "You are My Bitch..." This song has  to be the funniest spoof song since Leonard Bernstein penned "Officer Krupke." As that song says, they "never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get."

That message becomes clear during the "Dark Ride" in which there is some unexpected handholding, and, once done, denial and repercussions. Who is gay. Who is straight. We again hear the question: "What are you afraid of."

In this scene Schrader has a chance to show off his light but spectacularly colorful singing voice, one which is a cross between a young John Mellencamp and a whiskey Irish tenor. There is a burr in his voice that is distinctive, original, and in the hands of a good voice teacher could become a trademark. Wesley Taylor as Rick did a fine job as well, as he did in his solo scenes in "33.39 N, 104.53 W".

These two solo scenes with Taylor as Evan take place early and late in the show. Set at night in Roswell, NM,  he awaits the arrival of some UFOs. He has just broken up with his girlfriend, and escaped into the fanatical world of saucer seekers.   This is one of Rock City's weaker scenes, mostly because of its predictibility.

Another scene that needs work is the opening one. It takes place in a roadside diner where Jess (Schrader) is poring over a map. The waitress, Dodi, takes an interest in him but gets little encouragement in return.  Nevertheless, before you know it, they are singing and traveling together, to "Rock City." The set up and the actions seem at odds here.

First in the cafe, and then in the bogus automobile the scene lurches about, never jelling. I am  not sure if it is the dialog, the characterization or a simple lack of direction that make these opening scenes so devoid of life. What we have here is neglect and a failure to thrive. Even so,  there are sections in "I Can Tell" and "Mile After Mile" that are glorious. They are mostly revealed in the magnificent sound that the voices of Hollander and Schrader make as a couple. When Schrader duets with Gwen Hollander, the effect is etherially beautiful and all too short, because otherwise the scene is as bland as whipped wallpaper paste.

The final scene, "Greetings from Niagara," is  puzzling, since it combines elements of a finale with yet another tale, that of Kate (Jill Abramovitz) and her peculiar Tour Guide (David Rossmer).  Kate is totally unable to make up her mind about marriage. In what may have been meant as a metaphor for this, the Tour Guide offers up a series of Niagara highlights - Lovers Leap, Taking the Plunge, Crashing on the Rocks. He also explains, without enthusiasm, that things may work out.  In the end it is a metaphor with neither bite nor wisdom.

Like any grand tour, this show eventually arrives at its end. So what are its chances of moving along, and eventually ending up on or  off Broadway?

Considering how long it takes to develop a successful musical, See Rock City has a good chance of surviving the long haul that entails. The number of appreciative young people in the audience also indicates that it is reaching new theatre-goers.  As with Passing Strange and Spring Awakening, somthing may be up. Perhaps the question, "What are you afraid of?" resonates with new audiences in a way I can only guess at.  Only time will tell.

Quick Link to Barrington Stage Company

If the subject of Rock City awakens further curiousity, Brent Moore has a blog dedicated to the barns of See Rock City and has taken photographs of virtually every one.  

More about Rock City, the place.