A Wall Apart
Graham Russell is the singer-songwriter of the Australian soft rock duo, Air Supply, a very successful band here in the 1980s with songs like All Out of Love and The One That You Love. A Wall Apart transports us to Berlin in 1961 right before the wall is erected. Families, careers and relationships are about to be turned upside down with the erection of the wall, eliminating all travel between East and West Berlin.
Esther, the American/German love interest, is a professed fan of West Side Story and unsurprisingly A Wall Apart mirrors the “opposite side of the tracks doomed love affair.” The book nicely develops a family history of three brothers who are split on their east/west loyalties. Unfortunately, we have to endure song after song of repetitive lyrics. Lines are underlined so often that you cannot get them out of your head. During intermission, the people in front of me starting singing “We’re Having A Baby,” the Act I closing number. Actually, they only sang those four exact words, having just heard them repeated over and over. Given the interesting premise here, I was underwhelmed by songs titled: “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” and “I Want To Be In Love With You.” To be fair, a sappy and romantic Air Supply fan I am not.
The principals in the cast were game and did everything in their power to put this material over, even the jarring transition midway through Act II to a dead narrator. The set design and screen projections of Berlin were very effective, elucidating the harshness of the wall. I’ll avoid discussing the odd choreography which was inserted far too often. You can have a good story and talented performers, but a good musical must have good tunes. Underneath the lyrics, however, there were some nice melodies. The verdict: a bit of a slog overall but a promising idea.
Peace, Love and Cupcakes: The Musical
Is it possible to fairly review a show that sells cupcakes in the lobby for No Bullying charities? Let’s try. Based on a mother/daughter written book, Peace, Love and Cupcakes addresses eighth grade angst with songs like “Different,” “Kylie Carson Doesn’t Belong Here,” and “How Do You Deal With a Monster?” Kylie is a new student trying to fit into a new school, dreading every “Monday Morning.” To make matters worse, the popular (and very mean) young ladies, ingeniously named the BLAH girls, are in full torment mode. Kylie forms a cupcake club and, as a result, there are lessons learned through songs sung on the way to peace and love.
In the performance I caught, Kylie was played by soon-to-be high school sophomore Carrie Beck, the co-author of the original book and also this musical. Ms. Beck was simply excellent in the role and the rest of the large cast were fun to watch. It was especially nice to see all the performers putting a spin on their different character’s personalities, enriching the viewing experience. I would recommend tightening this to one act as the intermission drained the momentum somewhat and Act II is short with not enough new songs. This is a kid’s show for sure but it is easy to imagine this musical performed in middle schools everywhere. I think it was possible to fairly review a show that sells cupcakes in the lobby. Whew.
Following the middle school scenario in Peace, Love and Cupcakes, Generation Me is a significantly darker offering. Although this show also opens with a Monday number, “Monday Morning/Revelation,” by song’s end Milo Reynolds (Milo Manheim) hangs himself. The rest of the show is told in a series of flashbacks, unraveling the mystery of why he decided to end his life. In the program, the book and lyrics writer, Julie Soto, noted that she was trying to create age appropriate and challenging material for teen actors. Clearly she accomplished that but at least my journey to that conclusion was decidedly mixed.
By structuring the show in flashbacks, we alternate sadness and despair with teen angst, clichés and a cornucopia of social issues. An example: right after the suicide, Milo and his best friend have a number called “The Bra Song” about learning to unhook a bra before going on a date. Not that the song wasn’t funny, it was such a dramatic swing in tone that seemed odd. Then the first Act piled on the gossiping and severe meanness but in a way that felt like a celebration of such behavior. (The cutter in the class is known in social media as #SLICE.) By intermission, frankly, I was completed put off. The couple sitting to my left did not return after intermission and the young lady next to me probably said’ “Oh my God” a half dozen times, often then burying her face in her hands. Apparently I was not suffering alone.
Perseverance, however, can have its rewards. Before the middle of Act II, the machinery that swung repeatedly from one extreme to the next calmed down and a slew of very nice, character driven ballads emerged which put emotion, grief and heft to the forefront. To the credit of Ms. Soto, I was impressed toward the end of the show when I realized how many of these characters had meaningful parts, with performances and dialogue to match. The flashback structure of the show may be what I struggled with here. Letting out some of the teenage musical comedy hijinks (perhaps better termed as abuse) earlier before throwing the audience directly into the suicide might help.