nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
October 26, 2010
According to producers, "Before there was Glee, there was something we like to call Perfect Harmony, where competition trumped everything. Where victory knew no limits. Where even the most innocent act could be seen as something treacherous, and no good deed went unpunished."
This light, silly piece about a high school championship a cappella group called the The Acafellas, and their rival female counterparts The Ladies in Red, was co-written by Andrew Grosso, who also directs, and a group of artists called The Essentials whom he collaborated with on it over the years. It received positive press at the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival and had a summer run on Theater Row in 2008.
The current cast features Dana Acheson, Faryl Amadeus, Clayton Apgar, Marie-France Arcilla, David Barlow, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Jarid Faubel, Kobi Libii, Kelly McCreary, and Robbie Collier Sublett, and they all bring their considerable talents to the proceedings.
The Acafellas have won their high school national championships for 17 years, and current members are determined not to break the streak. Preparations for competitions are usually nerve wracking, especially at such a tender age, and when it is announced that this year the competition will be broadcast on MTV3, it adds considerably to the emotional frenzy. The Ladies in Red are determined to make their mark this year and start with a new name, "Lady Treble." We follow both groups as they prepare and perform in the competition. Along the way we meet the usual suspects of high school characters, facing typical emotional challenges as they navigate the hallowed halls of their alma mater. There's the snooty uptight girl, the neurotic, the slightly trashy one, the handsome boy who doesn't have to try as hard, the one who never speaks up till the end, and the one who is gay and closeted. All our buddies from our past at Anywhere High, USA. There is really nothing new in this script, but the cast is lively and Grosso keeps the action moving. We observe, laugh, and perhaps identify with their predicaments as boy lusts for boy, girl retaliates against girl, and jealousies and insecurities abound, but we don't really get to know any of these characters in depth.
The script does create some nice opportunities for the cast members to show their versatility, and some standouts include Kate Morgan Chadwick as Michaela "Mickey D" Dhiardeaubovic, the orphaned Slavic student whose puck rock brother Goran (a very funny David Barlow) is trouble. Chadwick then magically morphs into sleazy middle-aged talent agent Kiki Tune, who seduces young hunk JB Smooter (Jarid Faubel) into leaving the group. And Marie-France Arcilla does a grand transformation from Kerri Taylor, the shy, nerdy group manager with a vocal nervous system disorder, to a hilarious turn as Tobi McClintoch, a larger-than-life voice coach who seems to be channeling a heady combination of Norma Desmond and Eartha Kitt.
Nick Francone has created a wonderful unit set that, depending on the lighting, can be a classroom, hallway, or stage. Lighting design by Brian Jones is also top notch, and Becky Lasky's costumes, from the varied skirt lengths of the uniforms, to the loud spandex on the mouthy agent, go far in helping us to understand the characters. As for that perfect harmony? While the production benefits from astute arrangements and musical direction by Ray Bailey and Adam Wachter and the performers blend reasonably well, it is the kind of musical meshing that never really rises believably to a championship level.