Regional Reviews: Seattle
The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes
Having seen the work through all three incarnations I can honestly say this tale of an average Joe who wakes to find himself trapped in a sort of "Twilight Zone" musical comedy existence that I loved when I first saw it, and frankly didn't feel it needed so much development. But it hit a road bump when the show's "big reveal" stopped the show, and that road bump still exists, despite a tried and true happy ending and a big finish.
Howard Barnes, played with everyman charm and a lilting voice by Seattle stalwart Joshua Carter, works a dead-end office job, pals around with a lame office buddy/sports fan (a deliciously doltish John Michael Scott), and somehow manages to ignore Maggie (the triple-threat Taryn Darr), the new hire in the cube next door, as he mopes over his ex, Grace (a sassy saucy belter named Jasmine Jean Sim), whom he seems to hold accountable for all his woes. Then, poof! Everyone knocking at his door, at his office, at the stadium, and in the pub are coming at him with a song in their heart and on their lips. Maggie determines to help Howard discover what's happened to him, which leads them to a recurring phantom figure who is revealed as the daunting theater god Von Schwartzenheim. The latter, played with relish, ketchup, mustard and everything including the sink by inimitable veteran farceur Jeff Steitzer, is the key to Howard's happily ever after. And then ... the show is stopped cold by an unsatisfying plot twist that requires the full cast jump into high octane mode plus reel the audience back in with razzle dazzle.
Director Brandon Ivie, musical director R.J. Tancioco, and especially choreographer Al Blackstone, who has the cast dancing every style from de Mille to Robbins to Bennett, have delivered the goods and then some. The team of Kooman and Diamond cleverly spoof the words and music of many Broadway legends, but their most memorable is a sweet, tender charm song "Can't Keep It In," which would probably become a standard if anybody recorded such throwbacks to the golden age of musicals anymore.
The ensemble cast members all play multiple roles and are irrepressible and irreplaceable, with a special nod to Nick DeSantis, Greg McCormick-Allen, Mallory King, Sarah Russell, Richard Peacock, Kate. E. Cook, and Paul Flanagan, who have astound me in the many shows I've seen them in, whether in lead, supporting or ensemble roles.
The technicolor sets by Christopher Mumaw look like a million bucks and convey the illusion that we are seeing the show in a Broadway-size musical house. Rose Pederson's costumes adroitly interweave new pieces with cannily recycled items from shows that Village has done in the past, and the lighting design by Aaron Copp is generally and suitably eye-popping.
The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes might play less well in New York, where musicals spoofing musicals, from Spamalot to Spamilton, may have become tiresome, but with serious attention to the wrong-turn I alluded to earlier, it could be a big crowd-pleaser in many regional theatres around the country, just as it is at Village.
The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes, through October 21, 2018, at Village Theatre, 303 Front St N in Issaquah and October 26 - November 18, 2018 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave, Everett WA. For more information visit www.villagetheatre.org.