nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
July 10, 2008
Perfect Harmony is perfectly sweet, gleefully funny entertainment. Directed by Andrew Grosso and written in collaboration by Grosso and current and previous cast members (collectively known as the Essentials), the show premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2006. It seems that additional cooking time for the play has served it very well.
The story concerns the all-consuming world of high school a cappella competition. Grosso has taken a sound premise for a comedy and cultivated it with sharp humor and a warm appreciation for the subject's subculture. Two gender-specific singing groups, the men of the perennial champs Acafellas and the women of the Ladies in Red, vie for the ultimate prize, a championship broadcast on MTV2. Considering how many people have contributed to the script, it's a wonder that the main plot and its multiple interweaving storylines blend so beautifully together (as do the voices). There is no excess or unfinished business here; all threads tie up nicely on a high note.
A great deal of comedy is mined from the subject matter: the growing pains of high school life, teen angst, and, most effectively, a cappella music. Grosso and the Essentials give us great bang for the buck supplying beautiful voices and strong harmonies with quirky (quite often super square) arrangements. The students' awkward choreography is also a treat. But Grosso never strays too far; the unpredictable song selections, the arrangements and movements are all faithful enough for the story to sustain its heart.
Many of the students suffer from one form of misfortune or phobia to hilarious effect. It's not all fun and games, however. The play also winks at, if not fully addresses, many relevant teen topics including dating, definitions of beauty, peer pressure, and even the use of performance enhancing drugs.
There are tender moments as well: we gain insight into the motivations of these driven teenagers. The lovable characters, while incredibly funny, are genuine; they really do love to sing. They're searching for the true meaning of music, harmony, and friendship.
It should be noted that there are lots of pop music references here; I speculate that some jokes might be missed by those who aren't familiar with the genre.
The cast is outstanding; each cast member is equally adept at playing comedy and singing a cappella. Sean Dugan is adorably frazzled as the multi-afflicted freshman just joining the Acafellas. Vayu O'Donnell does a terrific turn as the group's soul-searching leader unsatisfied with simply winning the Nationals competition year after year. His tortured pop ballad medley after leaving the group is hilarious. Amy Rutberg sizzles and sashays as the Jesus-following rival to Dana Acheson's uptight group leader. Kathy Searle is a comedic powerhouse as the misplaced replacement Michaela "Mickey D" Dhiardeaubovic; her clueless butchering of the English language is brilliant. Nisi Sturgis gives a new vitality to a commonly used convention as her character suffers from Tourette Syndrome. Benjamin Huber, Clayton Apgar, Scott Janes, and Margie Stokley are also outstanding in the cast. Some of the actors perform double duty, embodying fantastic adult characters.
It's no surprise that the production is expertly assisted by artists behind the scenes The set design by Eliza Brown is subtly versatile for the various high school locales. Becky Lasky's costumes are ideal, periodically garnering laughs all by themselves. Brian Jones does well with the lighting design, appropriately creating intimacy at important moments in the show.
Perfect Harmony is pure joy from its start to its musical climax. It would be easy to envision this production having a Broadway address in the very near future.