Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Although it is not clearly stated in the credits, Beatsville is inspired by Roger Corman's 1959 film A Bucket of Blood, drawing its situations, setting, and lead character name from the film. Any resemblance between this musical and Alan Menkin (a frequent Glenn Slater collaborator) and Howard Ashman's Little Shop of Horrors, also based on a Roger Corman film, is probably inevitable.
Beatsville is set amongst a group of people who by choice are outside the mainstream, beatniks, in their natural habitat of Greenwich Village in 1959. Quirky is the first adjective that comes to mind, and it's the perfect tone for this story. Wendy Wilk's score is a complete homage to the cool jazz of the era, and the central trio sounds like (Dave) Lambert, (Jon) Hendricks & (Annie) Ross, a very popular singing group of the era. Highlights of the score include the title song, which gets the show off to a lively start, "School of Cool," "Take the Dough, Daddy-o," and the second act opener, "Dig Me." The score is one of the most tuneful I have heard from a new musical in a long time.
The plot revolves around Walter Paisley, who is square but wants to be hip. Trying to impress Carla, a spoiled rich girl from the 'burbs slumming uptown, he pretends to be a sculptor and while trying to make a piece that will impress her, he kills his landlady's cat which he then turns into the sculpture. Suddenly Walter is the new cool thing and more deaths and subsequent sculptures ensue.
Opening night came after six public preview performances and word is that fine tuning is going on. The opening "Beatsville" needs to be tweaked a bit to get things off to an even more energetic start, and Walter's song "Because of Her" could be replaced, as it is too meandering and doesn't land. With some minor changes the show will have a bright future.
As our hero Walter Paisley, Max Crumm has exactly the right geeky quality. Lauren Marcus is Carla, a spoiled rich girl from the suburbs, slumming it uptown. Should some enterprising producer want to combine Beatsville and Little Shop of Horrors in repertory, these two could play Seymour and Audrey with no problems on alternate nights.
Cayman Ilika as Natasha, Charlie Johnson as Claude 1, and Connor Russell as Claude 2 form the narrative trio. She carries most of the heavy lifting, vocally, while the men are superb dancers and decent singers. As undercover police officer Lou and a few other roles, Andre Chappelle gives an award-worthy performance. Billie Wildrick as over-sexed Alice is a hoot; Brandon O'Neil is beatnik guru (and Warren Beatty look alike) Brock; Michael Thomas Holmes is cafe owner Leonard; local gal Ann Morrison adds laughs as Carla's mother, Walter's landlady and a couple of other cameos; and Kevin Pariseau handles a handful of older male roles. Everyone in the cast is capable of taking this show on to bigger stages.
Bill Berry's direction is spot on, and the flavor of the era is skillfully captured. The choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter is a highlight of the production. It is a dance-heavy show, modern dance rather than Broadway or ballet, and all of the cast perform sensationally. Music direction is listed in the credits as by Kat Sherrell, but drummer Jon Burger is credited as conductor. Scenic design by David Gallo is another major plusall locations are on a turntable, so shifts from one location to another are accomplished seamlessly. Costumes by David C. Woolard are top notch. Lighting design is by Mike Baldassari, sound design by Justin Stasiw, and many of the regular Asolo tech people are on hand to work their magic, especially Michelle Hart with make-up and wig design.
Beatsville at Asolo Rep is an off-center, fun musical and just minor tweaking away from being ready for the next bigger stage. It is by far in the best shape of any of the after-repertory season presentations offered in recent years. I had a blast and hopefully will get to make a return visit toward the end of the run, just to see what has been done to sharpen it.
Asolo Repertory Theatre presents Beatsville through May 28, 2017, at the Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office 941-351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Musicians (in Alphabetical Order):
Directed by Bill Berry