Something special happened Friday night at the Fort Salem Theater. Under the direction of Wm John Aupperlee, a musical tale of tragedy and triumph in Old Hollywood, StarCrossed, made its world premiere. The musical was over thirty years in the making, and unlike some projects that outlive their timeliness before making it to the stage, this one was well worth the wait.
The lights come up on Julie Martin (Laura Roth)—sequined, rouged, dark-haired, desolate—the perfect Hollywood tragedy. We quickly realize she’s filming a take for a musical number; she’s calling for the director to cut in the applause track at the appropriate moment. When she’s sufficiently abused the director and the “tape” is set, she again takes her place. And when she opens her mouth to sing, we realize that if the remainder of the show can do justice to her voice, this is going to be a fantastic evening.
Thanks to good writing and a versatile set, the play cuts between 1950s and 1970s Hollywood with remarkable fluidity. We follow the opposite trajectories of two ambitious women, Julie, who’s already a star falling from sanity and grace, and Sarah Leonard (Andrea Green), a bright young naïf from the Midwest looking to trade on her prodigious singing talents to become a star. Rick Martin (Robert Silver), the typically fast-talking talent agent with big ideas and questionable motives, ties the two stories together. He was Julie’s agent during her heyday and downfall and wants to be Sarah’s agent on what he predicts will be a meteoric rise—so long as she turns out to be the long lost illegitimate child of Julie Martin.
The play is a fresh take on the old story of Hollywood’s insatiable demand for scandal and compromise, and those that are willing to do anything to get ahead. Slice Magnusen (Gordon Hazzard), a somewhat sleazy press informant cum detective, Jim Simon (Peter Kidd), the “no talent hack” desperate for any role, and the under appreciated secretary Stacey (Susan Cicarelli Caputo) support Rick’s quest for Sarah’s true parentage, which will make him famous again, even if it means undermining Sarah’s personal convictions. Simultaneously, flashbacks let us follow the love affair of Julie and her co-star Jack Curran (Jim Raposa) as they find out about her pregnancy and decide how to “deal with it.”
Boo Larsen, Julie Martin’s erstwhile biographer, may hold the secret to Sarah’s identity, but she’s not giving up the information easily. Benita Zahn’s Boo is a vampy, aging coquette who keeps secrets well, or at least keeps her name out of their revelation. Boo articulates the thrust of the play when she asks, “Who the hell is anyone?” She answers her own question, saying, “Darling, you are whoever you say you are.”
The tragedy of the play is that Julie never gets to dictate the terms of her own life. She tried, but no one listened. Regarding her child, she tells Jack (the illegitimate father), “Don’t worry, I’m gonna have your damn kid… And I’m gonna give it every damn thing it wants.” But due to the machinations of those closest to her, she never gets a chance. Her husband wants her to have another abortion, Jack insists on an anonymous adoption and Rick doesn’t even believe she’s pregnant when she tells him so. Julie sums up the sharp contrast between her on-screen versus off-screen life, when she tells Jack, “You know, if this was a movie, they would have let us keep her.”
The final reprise of “Looking Up For Heaven,” which joins Sarah and Julie “in their collective heart,” is a poignant picture of the play’s themes of love and longing. Listening to the song, we think of the things we lose and the things we gain as we make our way through life. It also allows Roth and Green to share the stage, something we wish could have happened more than once in the production. The pairing gives us a brilliant explosion of heart-rending, soul-searching musical prowess that earned a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night.
In all aspects, StarCrossed was a satisfying premiere. Led by two powerful female singers, who manage to compliment rather than eclipse one another, the entire cast gave stellar performances. Writer Al Budde’s snappy writing wove the disparate storylines together with verve and Jay Kerr’s musical numbers blended almost seamlessly into the narrative. Ultimately, StarCrossed manages to be escapist while maintaining a meaningful connection to reality and is, quite simply, a lovely way to spend a summer evening.
StarCrossed is playing at the Fort Salem Theater from August 13th-22nd. For tickets and more information, visit www.fortsalemtheater.com or call 518-854-9200.
–Sarah Cramer is an Assistant Editor at The Free George.