nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
September 21, 2007
From start to finish, Unlock'd is a truly smile-inducing evening of escapist musical theatre. It is cleverly written, charmingly performed, and exquisitely directed. If you're looking for a little sugar-coated treat in this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival, you need look no farther than Unlock'd.
Unlock'd is a sort of fairy tale, based on Alexander Pope's "The Rape of the Lock". It tells the story of Bellinda, the most beautiful lady in the land, whose majestic golden locks are guarded jealously by the powerful fairies, the Sylphs.
When the Sylphs spurn the love of their earthly counterparts, the Gnomes, the Gnomes plot a plan to steal a lock of Bellinda's golden hair. At the same time, Bellinda's clever step-sister, Clarissa, is frustrated that all the attention of the men at court is only on Belinda. She, too, plots to steal a lock of Bellinda's golden hair. Finally, the handsome Baron is madly in love Bellinda, and also, not surprisingly, is plotting to steal a lock of Bellinda's golden hair.
What follows is a delightful, and sometimes touching, mixing and matching of couples. Love is lost, then found, then lost again, and finally found. As for who ends up with whom, well, you'll just have to go see the play!
What is particularly remarkable about Unlock'd is its craftsmanship. Despite the obviously sentimental nature of the story, at no point does it feel manufactured or forced. The ardent love songs come from the heart, and the winking self-referential comedy never loses its charm. This is quite a feat, and composer Derek Gregor and lyricist/librettist Sam Carner are to be commended for it.
The performances are uniformly excellent—with each actor giving a memorable comic characterization. Sarah Jane Everman as Bellinda has an astonishing vocal range, and plays the character well. Whether she's being hilariously out-to-lunch or feeling her very first pang of love, she is wonderful to watch. Christopher Totten, as Barney the Gnome, gives perhaps the standout performance of the evening. His solo "Barney's Song" is completely heartfelt, ardent, and touching. As he leaves, the night I went, the whole audience seemed to erupt in a chorus of "Awww!"
The direction, by Igor Goldin, does a really excellent job of establishing the world of the musical immediately, and keeps a brisk and engaging pace throughout, making the 2 hours and 40 minutes it runs fly by. Tony Zimbardi's set design—three pillars on wheels and a bench—is imaginatively sparse, and creatively used throughout. Colleen Kesterson's costumes are lavish, fun, and perfectly fitted to each character archetype.
The one thing that can be said against Unlock'd is that, despite being a delightful evening of theatre, it is not one that is entirely memorable. It seems as though composer Derek Gregor and lyricist/librettist Sam Carner are trying to create, ultimately, a very commercial musical. As such, it feels as though it should be the kind of show that you come away "humming the tunes." However, the the songs in Unlock'd don't seem to be the type that you come away humming. At times, it feels as though the music is overwhelming the lyrics, to the point where it is difficult to understand what the actors are singing. Many of the songs don't seem to be constructed around a memorable hook or chorus, and some of them seem to blend together, even those that, from the perspective of the story, are the most interesting, funny, or touching.
Ultimately, however, Unlock'd is a great deal of fun: a polished, hilarious, and heartfelt musical that is well crafted and excellently performed. In a word, it is delightful.