There’s a woman in Hollywood in 1970 who actually says "no." That’s the plot of this new musical based a non-fiction story by journalist Kate Brex, once the editor of the Chatham Courier. The heroine of this tale comes to Hollywood and discovers that she is probably the illegitimate daughter of the recently deceased greatest musical star the Silver Screen has ever showcased; in this musical play she is called Julie Martin but in every visual and aural element it is clear that she is Judy Garland. Then it turns out her father may most likely be Gene Kelly. That’s quite a pedigree with which to start a legitimate career, but our heroine, here called Sarah Lenard, won’t have any of it. She wants to know and understand her parentage and her history, but she isn’t willing to become another revival of a long-lost talent.
The script makes reference to Martin’s other talented daughter Nina and just to throw us off the scent alludes to Liza Minelli being a totally different person when there’s Nina with an I, not Nona with an O, etc. Jay Kerr’s songs also make references - lyric or music or both at times - to songs closely connected with Garland. When you write something so obvious and when you costume your historic character in clothing so clearly understood to be the former star’s outfits and hairstyles, why drop the red herring into the proceedings at all when your audience is going to get the references right from the top of the show: a lyric in "Looking Up for Heaven" asks "birds fly...why can’t I?" ("Over the Rainbow"’s "If happy little bluebirds fly above the rainbow, why, oh why, can’t I?" Remember?)
Putting this aside the show is an interesting experience with much to recommend to an audience. Some of the songs are delightful including the se cond act opener "You Have to Say hello (To Say Goodbye)," "Love at First Sight," and "Only One Woman." "Maybe Next Time" escapes being a parody of the Kander/Ebb song sung by Liza Minelli and is a good piece on its own.
The performances are universally good. There are three Equity actors in the company: Robert Silver who plays the agent trying to manipulate Sarah into the "heir apparent" position, Susan Cicarelli Caputo who plays his secretary and is the moral conscience of the piece, and Jim Raposa who plays Jack Curran, the Gene Kelly clone. Caputo is the weakest of the three, but still registers some good, sound judgmental platitudes. Silver does very well with his character, often making us cringe but occasionally making us think about the right and wrong of a decision. Raposa is dandy whether singing, dancing or in the after-birth scene giving a new angle to the word despicable.
Laura Roth is brilliant as Julie Martin, her physical and vocal imitation of Judy Garland almost too much to bear. Andrea Green is a wonderful Sarah Lenard (read her as Kate Brex), emotional and stiff and cold as needed. When the two women join voices in the finale there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that one did indeed give birth to the other, but it also reinforces the final scene of the play and Sarah’s unflappable resolution.
As Sarah’s encouraging boyfriend, you’ll learn more about him than I’m willing to reveal here, Peter Kidd does a splendid job. Loosely based on Kerr himself, this character accepts a closure that makes us wonder about Kerry who married Brex, although they are no longer a couple. Knowing this fact (it’s in the program) gives a strange credence to the piece and leaves you feeling as though you are eavesdropping on the neighbors. Yes, Virginia, sometimes too much information is just too much.
Benita Zahn plays Boo Larsen, a Kitty Kelley sort of writer with too great a glint in her eye. Clearly enjoying herself on stage, and even more enjoying the despicable character allotted to her in this show, she gives both pleasure and a sudden little chill in the spine. It’s a nice job for the newscaster/actress.
The set (no designer credited) is a bit clumsy and the lighting often caught things moving when they shouldn’t be seen. The costumes (also uncredited) were first-rate, evocative and perfect. Maureen Pagano’s choreography was also peachy recalling to mind some of Kelly’s best and Garland’s finest. Director Wm. John Aupperlee clearly knows what he’s doing when he stages a piece like this one and certainly coordinates movement and character development well. Credited with design and direction it may well be that the set, lighting and costume elements are his as well, in which case, he should stick to directing or become a costume a designer and leave the other elements to better eyes and brighter talents.
This is a very brief run. I saw the second of six performance, so if you want to catch this world premiere, hurry up Route 22 to Salem, New York and take a look at something different, something unique. I had a really good time and the whole product is certainly worth your while.
Starcrossed plays through August 22 at the Fort Salem Theater, located at 11 East Broadway in Salem, NY. For information and ticket call the box office at 518-854-9200.