Saturday, October 2, 2010

Same old song, but it's sung well

I just wanted to throw a bouquet at the last minute to the cast of Perfect Harmony (at left), which closes at the Stoneham Theatre this weekend before heading off to New York (which means you only have two more chances to catch it).

In a perfect world, of course, this crack comic (and vocal) cast would be matched with a script worthy of their talents.  But they're oh, so not.  Perfect Harmony is cute all right, and of course wicked self-aware - and these singing actors nail just about all of its many laughs (and more than one character apiece).  But this Glee-inspired take on two sparring high school a capella groups (the "Acafellas" and "Lady Treble") is long on observations that are such common knowledge they don't really count as "observations" any more, and short on things like - well, a plot.   And, I wouldn't say Perfect Harmony is any stronger than an average episode of Glee - it's just rated a little more PG-13, that's all (and btw, one creepy PG-13 groping joke could definitely go). Indeed, the script sometimes feels like a short-form television series; writer Andrew Grosso simply strings along scenes like weekly installments leading up to an hour-long finale, tagging this or that stock situation or character (the closeted gay, the wacky exchange student, the Christian babe who visualizes Jesus as a jock in his underwear) without bothering to build any kind of rising action out of his season's-worth of clichés.

Still, if I were feeling generous, I'd say Grosso's gimmicks seem so familiar because these stereotypes are timeless, and anyhow, these actors actually make the Fox fodder taste fresh.  In a season of sterling casts - arguably this fall has offered the best set of performances I've ever seen in Boston - this crowd still manages to nudge its way close to the front.  (True, some of these "kids" looked to be about 30, but I think we can deal with that; haven't you seen Grease?)  Perhaps first among talented equals were the sweet Kelly McCreary and the starchy Dana Acheson, but I was also awed by Kate Morgan Chadwick's bizarre Latvia-by-way-of-the-Balkans accent, and Marie-France Arcilla's Tourette's-like tics. Jarid Faubel was near perfection as that hunky jock, as was Robbie Collier Sublett as the sharp kid who's looking for a "a big fat wad of musical truth." The show's other high school types were sharply etched by Clayton Apgar, David Barlow (although Barlow got a little broad), Kobi Libii, and Faryl Amadeus.

The good news is that these guys can all sing, too - although the women were generally stronger than the men, and the "Acafellas" didn't really have a tenor (both facts seemed strange, given it was the guys who were supposed to be national champs). All this became part of the joke, too, however; the baritones were quite confident that falsetto could carry them the distance. Too bad something of the same attitude extended to the script itself.

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