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Reviews Off-Broadway Published 28 October 2015

Songbird

59E59 Theaters ⋄ 20th October - 29th November 2015

Chekhov goes country.

Juliet Hindell
Chekhov's violin, hanging on the wall

Chekhov’s violin, hanging on the wall

Michael Kimmel’s charming yet slight reworking of The Seagull sees country and western mingling with Chekhov as fading C&W star returns home with disastrous consequences. Here Arkadina is no longer the diva of the Moscow stage, rather she’s Tammy, a street talking, whiskey-swilling, flame haired singer in leather leggings and talon heeled cowboy boots.

The plot sticks very closely to Chekhov’s original, so the question becomes does the Russian classic work in this new setting? The surprising answer is yes, if mostly because of the heel-tapping music.

Lauren Pritchard’s music and lyrics are the backbone of this play-with-songs and they are given life by a strong cast nearly all of whom double as musicians playing everything from tambourine to guitar, ukulele and cello. Tammy, played with suitably brittle spite and cougar vigor by Kate Baldwin, comes home to Nashville with her much younger lover cum music producer Beck, aka Trigorin. Because Tammy’s career has lost its sheen, she torpedoes a performance by her son Dean and his girlfriend without giving it a chance. Dean is devastated – just like Konstantin in the original. But Mia, the ingénue singer mirroring Chekhov’s Nina, is inspired and sets her cap at Beck in a bid to make it big as a singer. While Adam Cochran’s Dean sings with a beautiful mellow yearning, he seems cast against type in this role, and an awkward scene where his mother tends to his neck wounds highlights the implausibility of their relationship.

It’s just about the only off-note in what might better be described as a country cabaret than a serious drama. That’s partly due to the predictability and schmaltz of the country lyrics – all unrequited longing and heartache – and partly because of the way the characters are portrayed: the women are brassy and sassy, the men all craggy or craven. But some of the songs and the singers really are zingers – Kacie Shek for one, as the lovelorn bar tender, Missy, who hankers after Dean; she brings the house down with her rendition of a song that borrows another famous title ‘Cry Me A River’. The young, would-be starlet, Mia, played with earnest perfection by Ephie Aardema also gets to show off her potential with a song called “Again.” Nearly every member of the ensemble cast sings a solo, and there’s charm to spare as Erin Dilly as the diva’s sister, Pauline, and Drew McVety, as her doctor lover, flirt in full view of her husband.

In between the songs there’s a lot of wistful talking and whiskey drinking – again reminiscent of Chekhov. “You all just talk and talk and never do anything,” Tammy opines about her relations’ Chekhovian apathy. Entertaining as this all is, it’s hard to engage too deeply in the characters’ fate, and there are moments when you wish they would all just stop talking and do what they do best: sing.

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Juliet Hindell

Juliet Hindell first went to the theatre to see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when she was four. She’s calculated that she has since seen that play more than 2 dozen times, once in Japanese. A Brit, Juliet has made her home in London, Paris, Washington D.C., Tokyo, Hong Kong, Charlotte NC and now New York. A journalist, Juliet wavers between new writing and musicals as her favorite forms of theatre, and of course Shakespeare.

Songbird Show Info


Directed by JV Mercanti

Written by Michael Kimmel

Cast includes Ephie Aardema, Kate Baldwin, Adam Cochran, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Drew McVety, Eric William Morris, Kacie Shek, Bob Stillman, Andy Taylor

Original Music Lauren Pritchard

Link http://www.59e59.org/

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