Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: March, 2015

The Norwegians

So dere’s dis play goin’ on in town called Da Norvegians, and it’s set in Minneapolis and it’s got Norvegian characters in it, so I tought I should go check it out, on accounta I vas born dere and grew up dere an’ my fodder vas Norvegian, so I know da lingo pretty good, doncha know. I tought maybe I could assess da play for accuracy in how it depicts my Minnesota Luteran cultural milieu, ya know.  Plus it mentions lutefisk, vich I myself ate ven I vas a child, dough I hated it. I hated everyting about it: da smell, da taste, da consistency, vich vas like rubber. It’s a traditional Norvegian delicacy but I could never understan’ vy dey dint yust leave it back in Norvay. Ennaway, dat vile fish vas served special at Christmas in my fodder’s fodder’s dining room in Minneapolis, and I never hauled off and said how much I hated it, ’cause dat vould not be nice.

Nobody in da Minnesota Luteran family I grew up in ever hauled off an’ said anyting. It vas yust not done, doncha know. Dere vas an unspoken ting dat it’s a sin to be angry or rude or confrontational. So you learn to lump it and stuff it. C. Denby Swanson who wrote Da Norvegians got dat part right fer sure. Dere are dese two Minnesotans, Tor an’ Gus, who are business partners, an’ dere business is contract killing—vich isn’t very nice necessarily, but neverdaless Ron Litman and Brian Hemmingsen who play dem make it very funny how dey practice dere profession using nice manners. Dere’s a lotta laughs about dat, you betcha.

Dere are also two non-Minnesotans in da play, and you can tell dey are from elsewhere because dey are not Norvegian and dey don’t talk Minnesotan at-tall. Dey are two vimmin named Betty and Olive. Betty is from Kentucky and Olive is from Texas, an’ it turns out dey vere boat dumped by dere respective boyfriends and so dey become clients of contract killers to off dere not-nice boyfriends. Uff-dah! Dat makes for very funny complications, you betcha. An’ Nanna Ingvarsson and Nora Achrati who play dem are so funny dey reminded me of dat British comedy team Joanna Lumley an’ Jennifer Saunders. Someone should write a notter play for dem two because it’s so rare dat vimmin togedder get to be over-da-top hilarious like Ingvarsson and Achrati are ven dey are trash-talkin’ dere fateless men.

I got to tinkin’ dat if dese two vimmin characters vere Minnesota Norvegian, dere vould be no play, because it’s not nice to kill your boyfriend yust because he dumped you, an’ every Minnesota Norvegian knows dat, doncha know. If dey vere Minnesota Norvegian vimmen, dey vould need a much bedder reason den dat to kill dere boyfriends! Dern tootin’! Minnesota Norvegian vimmin dumped by ex-boyfriends yust lump it and stuff it. So it’s a good ting fer dis funny play dat Betty an’ Olive came from Kentucky and Texas.

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

(This review was written for DC Metro Theater Arts and is reprinted here.)

You’d be hard pressed to find a better theatrical catharsis for high school angst than Dog Sees God, Bert V. Royal’s funny/poignant reimagining of characters from the Peanuts comic strip playing this weekend in an entertaining/moving student production at George Washington University. Directed with sharp sensitivity by Elizabeth Kitsos-Kang, the show is both a send-up of adolescent superficiality and a serious look at teenage bigotry, the kind that makes picked-on kids want to kill themselves. It’s like a lifesaving lesson wrapped in laughs.

The play, which premiered off Broadway in 2005, predated Glee by four years and presaged the television hit’s uncompromising look at high school bullying driven by animus and anxieties around appearance and sexual identity. Royal is openly gay, and though his script is loaded with broad humor, it minces no words about the tragic consequences of teenage intolerance. GLAAD recognized the popular play with a media award, and Royal has a sequel in the works.

Dog Sees God, which follows the Peanuts gang into high school,  skirts copyright issues by altering the characters’ names and calling itself an “unauthorized parody”—the object of the parody being not the comic strip but high school life. The title comes from a line spoken by Beethoven née Schroeder now a gay kid who practices piano privately during lunch period to avoid being bullied in the cafeteria (Nick Ong plays him with affecting timidity and tremulousness). “You know they say a dog sees God in his master. A cat looks in the mirror,” he tells CB née Charlie Brown (played with appealing agility by Jon Weigell), who is mourning his dead dog and harboring a boycrush on Beethoven. “I hate cats,” CB  chuckles. He then abruptly kisses Beethoven full on the lips.

The moment came as a complete surprise not only to Beethoven on stage but to the opening night audience in the auditorium, most of whom were GW students and agemates of the cast. Their very audible reaction ranged from aghast shock to affirmational delight; it was an amazing interplay of performance and response. And it was in that instant I understood what I had been sensing was so engaging about this production.

There was something about the performances I had been trying to put my finger on. The cast members seemed to have thrown themselves into their portrayals with an energy, conviction, and physicality that seemed to go beyond thespian; it was more like therapeutic. Here were eight college students enacting not only for an audience of peers but for themselves some of the rawest, raunchiest, and rudest aspects of a life experience they had all shared but years ago. And they were celebrating in shared comic catharsis the fact that they had come through, they had survived, and it had gotten better.

Shane Moran, for instance, in a commendable performance as Matt (the former Pig-Pen, now a germophobe jock), gave the character a hilarious horny swagger plus a dangerous homophobic edge that was revealed to mask his own conflicted sexual feelings for the boy he beat up on. He was like an embodied Everydude, except his cool cruel exterior was anatomized before our eyes.

And Annie Ottati, in a noteworthy performance as Tricia (the former Peppermint Patty), skillfully rendered in entertaining detail—in catty cahoots with Samantha Gonzalez as Marcy (Marcie)—all that is fatuous and vicious in what passes for pretty and popular. In the interaction of stage action and audience reaction, something about the way the art of theater can show the interior of characters’ exterior seemed to be serving a collectively retrospective healing through humor and heartache.

The evening’s comedy peaked in Madison Awalt’s solo scene as CB’s Sister (Sally), who performed her one-woman-show “about a caterpillar who longs to evolve into a platypus instead of a butterfly” as a hilariously dreadful dance that had the audience howling. The audience also enjoyed the agreeably recognizable spaciness of Gregory Langstine’s performance as the slacker pothead Van (Linus). As it happens he smoked the ashes of his blanket after it was burned by the pyromaniac Van’s Sister (Lucy), performed as amusingly deranged by Liena Rose Armonies-Assalone.

Costume Designer Sigríður Jóhannesdóttir has captured exactly the clothing tastes of this quirky cast of characters. Lighting/Scenic Designer Molly Hall has given the stage a Mondrian-like comic strip look with pastel panels in black margins, while her projected cartoonlike illustrations indicate scene changes wittily. And Sound Designer Austin Keefe has separated scenes with eloquent passages played on piano.

The pace of the performance started slowly, which may have been opening night jitters. The timing of actors’ lines was at first overhesitant, as if seeking an unsure split second too long the emotion to be played. Audience response seemed uncertain as well. Before long the production hit its comedic stride more confidently, and actors and audience connected with not only the authenticity of the material but also the wholehearted personal investment of the performances. In a curious way, the show began with the same undertone of “Will you like me? Will you accept me?” anxiety that everyone remembers vividly if not painfully from high school. The form was also the content. Here was a show about teenagers fearfully seeking acceptance performed by collegians opening themselves warily to friends and classmates. And what happened next was quite thrilling. Because once acceptance was signaled by an appreciative audience and once the actors relaxed into being fully present, Dog Sees God became one of those wonderful experiences in theater when candor is embraced and an audience is touched and lifted up.

Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead plays through this Sunday, March 29, 2015, at The George Washington University’s Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre, in the Marvin Center – 800 21st Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre’s box office, or call (202) 994-0995, or purchase them online.

See Jane Sing! (cabaret)

(This review was written for DC Metro Theater Arts and is reprinted here.)

The crowd that came to The Birchmere last night to “See Jane Sing!” got a great big ol’ cabaret show full of offbeat tunes and upbeat fun. Jane Lynch wowed ’em with her artful blend of agile song styling and ascerbic wit.

Opening the evening was a terrific jazz band, the Tony Guerrero Quintet, playing a 15-minute set that included a lovely medley from West Side Story (a nice nod to all the musical theater fans in the house). Drummer Matt Johnson was a bongo-savant standout. Another cool surprise was band leader and trumpet player Tony Guerrero’s rendition of “When You’re Smiling,” which he sang in an appealing Louis Armstrong–like rasp.

Tim Davis, known for arranging six-odd years worth of vocal numbers on Glee, crooned some mellow standards, “Come Fly With Me” and “The Very Thought of You,” then treated the audience to a song Guerrero wrote for ESPN, which had asked for something Sinatra-like about love and golf for a television commercial. Though the song Guerrero came up with, “Take Another Swing at Love,” never aired, Davis made it sound just like something  wonderful from the catalog of Ol’ Blue Eyes’  hits.

Jane Lynch took the stage—in a smart black pantsuit befitting her elegant stature—and lost no time wisecracking about how happy she was to be performing on the legendary Birchmere stage “a stone’s throw from the Auto Zone.” The audience enjoyed her skillful stylings of “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” and “If Wishes Were Rainbows” and then did a double-take en masse when she sang a hilariously sapphic song about “slapping the case” (“she was on her toes, I was on my knees”). The audience, among whom same-sex couples were well represented, pretty much went wild.

Lynch was joined by Kate Flannery, who plays a lush on The Office and whose pipes and comedic skills perfectly complemented Lynch’s. Together they sang “Mr. Monotony,” a little-known Irving Berlin ditty, and a gorgeous arrangement of “Far From the House I Love” from Fiddler on the Roof. They then sang “Blood on the Coal,” a faux-hootenanny Folksmen song by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer from the film A Mighty Wind.  As Flannery gesticulated like a giddy cheerleader, Lynch tried to sober her sotto voce, “People died!” It was a hoot.

Another highlight of hilarity was a medley of classic but maudlin love songs that Lynch sang solo. Lynch punctuated the sexist undertones in each as she portrayed one selfless, lovesick female character after another abjectly longing for the man of her deluded daydreams. The satire was  pitch-perfect and priceless.

Just when the evening couldn’t get any funner or funnier, Lynch and Flannery sang “Something Stupid,” a song originally sung by Frank Sinatra and his daughter, Nancy Sinatra. In the prefacing patter, Lynch casually made clear that though she and Flannery go back decades they’re not, you know, lovers or anything. That set up what became a laugh-out-loud episode during which each time the lyrics intimated a relationship of affection, Flannery and Lynch would avert their eyes and abruptly turn away from each other. The gag kept running and killed.

Suddenly, it seemed, Davis, Flannery, and Lynch were singing “The Party’s Over,” as indeed it soon would be, after several encores. It had been, as Lynch promised it would be when I spoke with her earlier, a blast—a complete and satisfying evening of enthralling cabaret. Plus it had been a chance to see Lynch take the stage and hold a live audience with even more sass and pizzazz than onscreen.

Running Time: About one hour 20 minutes with no intermission.

“See Jane Sing!”: An Evening With Jane Lynch plays March 24 and 25, 2015, at The Birchmere Music Hall – 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, calling Tickestmaster at (800) 745-3000, or purchase them online.

The Mad: A Fracking Fairytale

(This report was written for DC Metro Theater Arts and is reprinted here.)

In the words of Countess Aurelia, the title character in Jean Giraudoux’s comedy The Madwoman of Chaillot, ”Nothing is ever so wrong in this world that a sensible woman can’t set right in the course of an afternoon.” And that’s exactly what happens in this fable when Aurelia and two other eccentrics save the planet from depredation.

A prospector and his capitalist cronies intend to drill for oil that pools deep in the earth beneath Aurelia’s charming Parisian café. The three madwomen devise a plot to dispatch them to their death—all of them, every last one percenter. In Giraudoux’s prescient farce—written in 1943, first performed in 1945, and frequently revived—the evildoers’ comeuppance is a satisfaction to behold.

B. Stanley, artistic director of Theatre du Jour, happens to have a home in West Virginia, where at this moment forces are massing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. There is a fierce debate going on and much at stake. Proponents of fracking say it creates jobs, stimulates the local economy, and ensures the nation’s energy security. Opponents say it will be an environmental disaster. As Stanley knows firsthand, for affected residents of Western Maryland, Eastern West Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania, fracking is a black-and-white issue, such that the dispute between the two sides brooks no meaningful conversation.

Stanley had the intriguing notion to adapt The Madwoman of Chaillot into a condensed version that might bridge the gap or at least open communications between adversaries. Like portable rural street theater, the show could travel to those areas and be performed for residents in nontheatrical settings as a point of departure for discussion. The plot parallels could not be plainer between what befell the Madwoman’s Paris and what’s going down above the Marcellus Shale. Lest there be any doubt, Stanley’s adaption—which I enjoyed Sunday night at DC Arts Center—makes specific reference to diagonal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The show, though a pointed parable, does not play like agit prop, however. Stanley and his intrepid company of co-devisers have preserved all the quirky delight of Giraudoux’s two-acter and compressed it into a brisk and charming hour and a quarter. Names and lines and other things are changed, but the story plays out perfectly pleasantly and requires no prior knowledge of the original.

The set is five simple pink panels that can be put up and taken down wherever, and there are no light cues. Onstage are three small café tables with white tablecloths. Before the show, stage left, Emile, a waiter (David Berkenbilt), plays a small accordion, and Esmerelda (Kathryn Winkler) plays guitar. Their music sets a populist tone; among the tunes I recognized was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” As in the original, the bad guys show up—Broker (Jerry Herbilla), Prospector (Shawn Jain), Mr. Axelrod (Annetta Dexter Sawyer), and Mrs. Cummings-Tommard (Bettina Stap)—while assorted locals lend color—Sal, a peddler (Jonathan Frye); a Gladys, a blind patron (Casey Leffue); and Irma, a waitress (Raffaela Perra O’Neill).

The entrance of the Madwoman (Rachel Reed, here called Miss Amelia) is nutty and grand as it should be. Before long, apprised of the oil-drilling scheme, she concocts a counterscheme for the despoilers’ demise. A lot of imaginative and fun doubling also begins. Herbilla becomes Peter, the man who tried to jump off a bridge believing life is not worth living (Miss Amelia changes his mind on that point); Leffue becomes the Sergeant who rescued him by clocking him. The two other madwomen appear, appropriately peculiar: Sawyer as Miss Constance and Stap as Miss Gabriella. And in Act Two (which is really a second scene; there is no intermission), Frye returns as the man who tells Miss Aurelia the secret of how to open a hidden door in a pink panel leading down to a cul-de-sac cavern. Forthwith Miss Amelia lures all the world’s rapacious rich to their duly deserved doom.

Stanley and company have conceived the play as a fairytale, and in this iteration it really is. A host of Giraudoux’s tangential theatrical embellishments have been stripped away; the boulevard comedy has been transformed into a playful pathway with a clear linear direction. WSC Avant Bard will stage a full production of the whole play, in a new translation, in June. But what Theatre du Jour has done in compacting the work for a particular community is a noteworthy endeavor in its own right, and much to be commended.

It is one thing to make theater in a space that people must come to. It is quite another thing to take theater to where people are at. One way is not correct and the other way is not wrong. Both enrich audiences’ lives, and both increase theater’s relevance and reach.

Rarely, however, do we have a chance to attend a theater space close by and see firsthand what will be presented out on the road, one that leads literally to where people’s lives and land are in crisis. Giraudoux could not have imagined that his fable could one day have practical potential, in an afternoon or maybe an evening, to help set  something right that has in fact gone wrong in the world. What Theatre du Jour has done with The Mad: A Fracking Fairytale helps us imagine how that could actually happen.

Running Time: One hour 15 minutes with no intermission.

The Mad: A Fracking Fairytale plays through March 21, 2015 at Theatre du Jour performing at the District of Columbia Arts Center (DCAC) – 2438 18th Street, in Washington, DC. Tickets are $20 and $15 for DCAC members. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door.

Bigger Than You, Bigger Than Me

(This review was written for DC Metro Theater Arts and is reprinted here.)

If there is a post-9/11 theater in America—the way there was, for instance, a postwar theater in Europe—it just got bigger than before. A new play opened last night that offers a sharp new take on our times and jolts our collective psyche. The “our” in that sentence refers specifically to those of us who live in DC, a town targeted by terrorists not 15 years ago. Could DC also be a town whose residents are still—as Kathryn Coughlin’s Bigger That You, Bigger Than Me vividly suggests—experiencing aftershocks of that trauma unawares?

Coughlin’s setup is simple and deceptively inauspicious: three ordinary yuppie characters, two ordinary apartments that look furnished at Costco. Designer Collin Ranney has also cannily hung back walls of huge color photographs of DC buildings (including the Capitol) as might be viewed from each of the apartment’s windows, which adds an important sense of place beyond the two naturalistic playing spaces.

Beth (Sophie Schulman), an idealistic public school teacher, lives happily with Tucker (Joshua Simon), who has an important position in the Department of Homeland Security. He can’t talk about his work so they talk about hers. Beth also talks about her work when she visits her friend Adele (Mia Branco), who is also idealistic and teaches at the same school. Except for Tucker’s absorption in playing video games and Beth and Adele’s recreational pot smoking (which they do within the letter of DC’s new law, for what it’s worth), there’s not much of note going on.

At first the pace proceeds slowly, almost languidly, which may be due more to Nick Vargas’s direction than the play. Conversation between Adele and Beth has a spacey quality that is arguably warranted by the weed but that breeds impatience. Similarly scenes between Beth and Tucker amble along with no angle. Where is this going? is a question that can arise out of either suspense or ennui. In this production of Bigger Than Me, Bigger Than You, it’s the latter.

About halfway through, though, it becomes clear that something really is going on, something psychological, unsettling, or something actual, horrifying, we don’t know—something that steadily tenses and tightens such that what happens at the very end is shocking and chilling.

It is a most remarkable dramatic arc. You know those plays that start fascinating but then peter out? This one starts flaccidly then holds us fast in its grip.

Turns out Adele has a premonition that another terrorist attack is coming. She foresees from her floor-to-ceiling windows on the fifth floor that an automobile accident will happen, and sure enough it does. So she knows she’s right: “I want people to know what’s coming,” she says to Beth; “I want them to be safe.” Beth on the other hand, backed up by Tucker—who would certainly know if there were any credible threats at the moment—is certain that Adele cannot possibly be right. Beth has a fascinating speech about how such bad things happen elsewhere; they can’t happen here. So, who’s right? Is one crazy and the other not?  Cagily Coughlin keeps us wondering. More important, she constructs a script that makes us feel we must know.

It’s a script that has many other nice touches; one exchange between Beth and Tucker is a good example. Tucker has a pattern of calling particular women he has known “crazy” and Beth calls him on it. (Simon plays Tucker throughout the play in an understated, amusingly nuanced way that is well worth watching from the get-go—he definitely does the dude Coughlin has written. At one point, lacking a hand to hold a slice of pizza Beth has served him because both his hands are on his joystick, Tucker simply lets the pizza dangle from his mouth while he keeps playing.) Against the tension building between Beth and Adele over whether DC has been targeted again—such that Adele is dead certain school children must be sent home! people need to evacuate!—Beth and Tucker’s exchange about “crazy” is both smart and sublime.

Lighting Designer Chris Holland has provided some appropriately ominous optical effects, though because of the pacing problem they cue in and out in a way that can seem randomly overdramatic. Similarly Sound Designer Daniel Hogan has separated scenes with hauntingly melodic chime-and-keyboard tracks, but the effect can seem overstated next to the lackluster shape of the scenes. Hogan’s sound effects, which I’ll not give away, definitely do their job, however.

Field Trip Theatre is a brand-new 501(c)3 producing organization in town. Bigger Than You, Bigger Than Me is its first full-length mainstage run after previous entries in each of the last three Capital Fringe Festivals—the most recent of which, Patrick Flynn’s Giant Box of Porn, blew me away. On the basis of that outing and this, I’d say Field Trip has set forth on a promising path indeed.

Giant Box of Porn and Bigger Than You, Bigger Than Me are unalike in most respects, but what they have in common is something I always go to theater hoping to find: an astute playwright’s voice and a vision that extends beyond the world he or she creates on stage in a way that illuminates the world we live in.

“Once you know something,” says Adele, “you can’t unknow it.” Once we have known terrorism in town, can we ever not know it? Coughlin asks us to ask: Which is crazier, to foresee lurking and immanent  danger or to be blinkered and inured to danger altogether? In so doing Coughlin puts her finger on our very pulse and diagnoses the collective psychosis with which we all now must cope.

Running Time: One hour 35 minutes with no intermission.

Bigger That You, Bigger Than Me presented by Field Trip Theatre plays through March 15, 2015, at Anacostia Arts Center – 1231 Good Hope Rd SE, Washington, DC 20020. Tickets are available on online.

Kid Victory

“You have no idea what I’ve been through,” says Luke early on in Kid Victory, the nervy and unnerving new musical by John Kander (music) and Greg Pierce (book and lyrics) that just opened at Signature Theatre. Luke (Jake Winn), a lanky, blue-eyed teenager described as “all American” by Suze (Laura Darrell), a girl he once dated,  has just returned to the home he grew up in after a year during which he counted among the hundreds of thousands of children under 18 reported missing every year.

Luke’s anguished accusation is addressed to his devout and devoted Mom (Christiane Noll) and Dad (Christopher Bloch) and their fellowship circle from church, all of whom, though well meaning, are overweening in their welcome-back-Luke zeal. The kid is obviously deeply troubled, he wants to be left alone, he doesn’t want to be touched, yet they persist. The awkwardness goes off the charts when Gail (Donna Migliaccio), an overbearing amateur-shrink church lady, tries to draw Luke out in a clueless game of marbles.

It’s like trying to fix up a kid’s PTSD by piling on more trauma, and their efforts are painful to watch. But not nearly as painful as what’s to follow.

As Luke’s story unfolds over the course of two absorbing and disturbing hours, his parents and their fellow churchgoers never do find out what he has been through. Nor does anyone else on stage. Not Detective Marks (Bobby Smith), whose tactless why-didn’t-you-leave? line of inquiry adds victim blaming to Luke’s distress. Not even the lively and lovely garden shop owner Emily (Sarah Litzsinger), who hires him and befriends him. She sings a gorgeous song to him, “People Like Us,” that bonds them beautifully on the basis of their outlier lives.

But we find out. We find out exactly what happened in that missing year of Luke’s life. In fact we find out more than some audience members may wish to know (“Kid Victory contains explicit content,” cautions Signature’s web page. “Viewer discretion is advised.”) And what we finally find out is the dark heart of a brilliant and brave theatrical event, an unflinching exposé in the form of a ticking bombshell of a musical.

The dark pall begins to fall when we meet Michael (Jeffrey Denman), the grown man whom Luke meets anonymously online playing a boat-racing game. Luke is into boats. Really, really into boats. Kid Victory is his racing name. Michael is a cyber-savvy charmer who plays Luke by playing the game with him using the handle Yachticus9. Michael lures Luke to meet IRL/IRT, and Luke jumps at the chance. Michael seems cool. So cool that when in their first scene together the man’s hands are all over the boy, Luke doesn’t get a Creep Alert. But we sure as hell do. And as the back story of Luke’s abduction gets steadily creepier, the show splits into dual dimensions. On one level are great songs and musical numbers, entertainingly and shrewdly directed by Liesl Tommy. On another level a tension steadily builds, also Tommy’s masterful handiwork. We know Luke was not murdered (else there would be no show), but we don’t yet know whether or how he was exploited. What happened to Luke? Will he be okay? What we learn bit by bit becomes almost impossible to bear, not least because Luke’s relationship with Michael has overtones of Stockholm Syndrome.

What follows is a backhanded spoiler alert for those whom the foreg0ing paragraph may have scared away. Besides not being murdered, Luke was not starved or mutilated. He was not trafficked for sex. He was done no permanent bodily harm. Given the horrors that go on in the underworld of predatory pedophiles, the violence depicted onstage in Kid Victory, though shocking, is nowhere near as extreme as what headlines scream. But that does not make it Child Exploitation Lite. For victims there is no Richter Scale for measuring the relative aftershock of trauma. As Kid Victory makes clear, Luke was abused and damaged. Shattered. Changed. Made not himself anymore. And the story that Kander and Pierce devised from that precipitating situation is one of the most important-to-tell original stories ever made into a musical.

One could find holes in the story line without looking too hard. For instance the character of Dad—whose extraordinary final scene with Luke, including his exquisite solo (“Where We Are”), is the emotional showtopper—is passive and unpresent in the early scenes in a way that makes no sense, even when his reasons are eventually explained. Also there’s a scene in which Luke meets up in the woods with Andrew (Parker Down), whom he found on a gay online dating site called Matchstick. It’s a wonderful scene, and it provides Down with an opportunity to show off his tap-dancing chops in a number called “What’s the Point?” that stops the show. It also graphically makes the point that Luke’s exploration of his homoerotic feelings is interrupted by a flashback of what happened to him at the hands or other body parts of Michael. But the scene seems to come out of nowhere, like an Obligatory Queer Interlude. I cannot imagine that the creators meant to suggest that what Michael did to Luke made him gay, but if there were signals in the script that Luke was already not straight before his fateful encounter with Michael, they were so subtle my gaydar missed them.

So the show needs some work. But it’s a show that’s worth it.

Kid Victory is an unusual musical in that its main character, Luke, never sings. In a sense he is the caged bird for whom the entire show sings.

Depending upon one’s curiosity, compassion, and/or concern about what happens to abducted and abused kids—or perhaps simply depending upon one’s taste or tolerance for musicals that tell dark stories—Kid Victory may or may not appeal. I myself was riveted and I cannot stop thinking about what I saw. Signature Theatre’s Kid Victory is one of those shows you can’t unsee…but you must see.