We’ve all seen the Broadway musicals. They are big and bold and cost a fortune to launch. They have high production values and often times have a “hook” built in to get press and public recognition to help build interest and sale, which are crucial to their success. But not all musicals are created in that environment. In today’s market, there is a resurgence of original works at the local level. The Living Room Theater is committed to new works. OCTA has new playwright competitions and stagings. KC Rep has launched some premiers. They can be exciting or they can be tedious.
Overture is a new musical produced in association with The Barn Players who produce their 6 x10 original production each year which consists of 6 10 minute short plays. Overture is a full length musical created by Krista Eyler and Barbara Nichols. It started with a project Eyler worked on when she wrote the song “Favorite Sounds in the World” about one woman’s view of the orchestra. That started the creative process that over a two year and a half year period resulted in the original musical Overture which opened last weekend at the Arts Asylym. Overture pays homage to the classic musicals like Music Man and Guys and Dolls. It contains many key elements and is a very impressive outing. It seems very polished and succeeds in hitting all the right notes for a great evening of theater.
From the original song, Eyler gave it a local flavor by incorporating a particularly difficult time in the Kansas City Philharmonic’s history when they faced a challenge to raise enough funds to survive. Set in the 1950’s, Overture follows the story of Lily, played by Eyler, who is a lover of the orchestra as well as a shy and private person. Lily works as a telemarketer for the orchestra and her passion for music is evident in her success in raising money. She is caught on stage by the bitter assistant conductor Christopher (Joel Morrison), Inda Beasley (Kay Noonan) who oversees the office and the light and fun loving Company Manager Richard Wangerin (Kipp Simmons). Lily is mortified she was caught, but Miss Beasley recognizes her passion and befriends her. Lily confesses she often runs the 6 blocks to the rehearsal hall from the office to listen to the orchestra from outside the doors.
Miss Beasley provides Lily with an elevated status in the world of fundraising at a party where she meets Marie McCune (Erica Baruth) and Clara Hockaday (Stasha Case), two quirky older wealthy women who lead the Women’s Philharmonic Committee and who are dedicating their efforts to helping save the Philharmonic. A reluctant Christopher is required to make an appearance to schmooze with the donors where he encounters a shy and out of place Lily. They share a drink and some conversation and go back to Christopher’s apartment where she begins to reinvigorate his fading passion for music.
Lily has a secret for why she is so passionate about music, which you’ll have to see the show to learn. This is a driving factor throughout and is reflected in Lily and Christopher’s evolving relationship, which is encouraged by Inda and Richard who have seen how jaded Christopher has become. Marie and Clara also take Inda under their wing. There is also a subplot involving Inda and Richard which I won’t reveal here either (go see the show). Noonan turns a fine performance as Inda with many layers. She has a fine voice, as does Simmons as Richard. He handles the material beautifully and has great comic timing to boot.
Baruth and Case play off each other almost like an old married couple as they work to save the Philharmonic. Both are strong singers, but Case comes off as a tad too young for the role. They both have some wonderful songs including the large ensemble number The Kitchen Symphony and the more intimate and emotional If We Could Have. And speaking of large ensemble numbers, choreographer Valerie Martin has done an outstanding job. There is almost clockwork precision in her choreography and it is reminiscent of the classic musicals with it’s frivolity.
Eyler obviously knows the character of Lily extremely well. She plays the shy and nervous aspects well and I really felt her pain and anger when Inda reacts as Lily reluctantly reveals her secret. Morrison also embodies the character of Christopher. Both have strong voices, but also have the acting skills to pull of the nuances of the roles. They compliment each other well.
This is a tribute to passion, love and music. My hat is off to Elyer and Nichols. This is a cut above most new productions. The music is beautifully crafted and varies between intimate story telling and large dance numbers. The main story of Lily is compelling and the local flavor comes through. I would like to see the stakes of failure heightened so we could feel more is at stake. The Philharmonic story is told more as an afterthought, but deserves a more prominent position to increase the emotional impact. I also found myself missing an antagonist. With more at stake we may have been more emotionally invested in both stories. However, neither is required to have a truly enjoyable evening of theater. This is certainly quite an accomplishment and I recommend getting out to see it this weekend before it closes.
Overture runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2pm at the Arts Asylum in Kansas City, MO. Click here for ticket information. https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3585285