Stage Company, Stage 2, Pittsfield, Mass., through Aug. 26
premiere of See Rock City and Other Destinations is
the latest offering in Barrington Stage Company’s excellent
Musical Theatre Lab, a 100-seat studio space for new musicals
under the award-winning composer William Finn’s artistic direction.
See Rock City’s series of musical sketches captures
the kitschy delights of road trip warriors—the angst, pain,
longings and hopes of everyday people. The focus is (mostly)
on the quotidian characters, the singing, and the acting.
This isn’t a capitalized Musical for audiences enamored of
spectacle, set to swelling scores and thumping beats; it is
a lower-case musical that, while not folksy in genre, sings
of real people to real people. See Rock City
pleases most because it (mostly) eschews pretension and keeps
its heart in the right place.
a single piano accompaniment and a simple but effective set
(a large rectangle screen, like a windshield, upstage center
that is filled by a series of photographs to establish the
locale, and two flats downstage left and right covered with
license plates from various states), the seven scenes and
16 songs of See Rock City clip along at under 90 minutes
with no intermission.
music leaps from locale to locale. See Rock City opens
in “a diner, somewhere in the Carolinas” where 20-something
loner Jess (Benjamin Schrader) pores over a map book, ignoring
the dinner that Dodi (Gwen Hollander), his 20-something loner
waitress, has set down for him. The ensuing song explores
his dreams about the wonderous “Rock City”—“Answer to every
prayer/Come on and see Rock City!/You can be happy there!”
So infectious is Jess’ hope that Dodi leaves her job mid-order
to travel with him, her big-tooth grin as much an invitation
as Jess’ crooked smile, and the pair whiz along the road to
Rock City, singing “I Can Tell,” a sort of “Getting to Know
You” with a faster beat, livelier lyrics, and a lot more humor:
“I can tell you like to be prepared:/Flashlight, condoms .
. . OK, now I’m scared/Little things tend to say a lot: a
sewing kit/A bag of pot.” The budding interest builds between
the two and with the audience. You start to care, and want
to know what’s next.
shifts from place to place and time to time and character
to character. In Roswell, N.M., Evan (Wesley Talylor) waits
all alone to record the precise moment of first contact while
recording his hopes and slights and losses over his alien
obsession. At the Alamo, dutiful granddaughter Lauren (Cassie
Wooley) pushes her stroke-affected Grampy (John Jellison)
on an annual visit to celebrate the meeting of Grampy and
his now-departed wife. In Glacier Bay, Alaska, three sisters—Lily
(Hollander), Claire (Jill Abramovitz), and Judy (Wooley)—bicker
and then bond over their father’s ashes before scattering
them on the bay. At Coney Island, two teen boys discover that
they are gay in the Spook House. In Niagara Falls, runaway
bride Kate (Abramovitz) meets a metaphysical tour guide (David
Rossmer) who shows her that everyone has someone they’re running
sketches capture everyday humor, melancholy, and hope—no matter
how small. The third scene, “Remember the Alamo,” had more
than a few people in the audience wiping away tears and unsuccessfully
stifling sobs. The two songs in the sketch, “All There Is
to Say” and “Grampy’s Song,” held a sweet, defiant sadness
in the first and a powerful triumph in the latter, making
“Remember the Alamo” both crowd pleasing and honest. The elements
of hokeyness are there, but the performances—particularly
John Jellison’s rich baritone—make it believable.
standout sketch is “Crossing Glacier Bay.” The biting comments,
hurt feelings, shifting allegiances, and ultimate uniting
to fulfill their father’s final request will move anyone who
has experienced sibling rivalry or has the empathy to recall
their own fathers. As with “Remember the Alamo,” “Crossing
Glacier Bay” has all the dangers of sentimentality latent
in the scenario, but the staging, acting, and singing, especially
of the initially childhood song “Three Fair Queens,” which
the three 30-something daughters act out with childhood choreography,
building energy and commitment that made me long to see the
full musical of Three Fair Queens.
creators Adam Mathias and Brad Alexander haven’t written that.
But See Rock City and Other Destinations stands as
a worthy reason to drive to Pittsfield and take in the wonders
of BSC’s Musical Theatre Lab.