Joanne Sweeney, Marcy Zeigler, Greta Smith, Caitlin Clemons, & Sallie Proffitt in Unhindered and Ungendered: Minor Characters, Major Songs. Photo: Wayward Actors Company.
Unhindered and Ungendered: Minor Characters, Major Songs
Musical Director Low Hale
Directed & Choreographed by Valerie Canon
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Wayward Actors Company musical revue series, Unhindered and Ungendered, is such a simple and good idea: a choice selection of musical numbers culled from various shows built around a theme and performed by a company assembled through, if not gender blind, then at least gender vision impaired, casting. Previous editions have covered love, murder, and Disney as themes.
This latest iteration is lacking a theme as deep or comprehensive, preferring to instead focus on a simple, enticing idea – major songs that have stood the test of time but were originally introduced by minor characters in important musicals.
It is apparently a concept that was difficult to strictly adhere to. “Everything’s Alright” from Jesus Christ Superstar, may be sung by Mary Magdalene (arguably not a minor character) but it includes verses from Judas Iscariot and Jesus himself, and Adelaide from Guys and Dolls can hardly be counted as a minor character, even if “Adelaide’s Lament” is not as well remembered as so many other numbers from that iconic musical.
But who cares when Herschel Zahnd as Mary, Marcy Ziegler as Judas, and Sallie Pollitt as Jesus kind of knock it out of the park with the former, and Caitlin Clemons gives a funny read on the latter. Part of the fun of such revues is that the traditional rules need not apply as long as you are entertaining. Director Valerie Canon makes certain we don’t go home disappointed.
Still, the other aspect of such a show is that there is a risk of unevenness, and some numbers go over better than others. The aforementioned Mr. Zahnd has a very good night with a delivery of “Another Hundred People” from Company that underscores his skill with phrasing (crucial with Sondheim), and he was very sharp taking point on “Fugue for Tinhorns” from Guys and Dolls (“I’ve got the horse right here”). Sallie Profitt joined him on that number and gave an understated performance in a good voice of “Mr. Cellophane” (Chicago) that made a virtue of her relative inexperience onstage.
Andrew Mertz was very funny with “What Happened to My Part?” (Spamalot), A number that featured updated local references, including good-natured jibes at his own director and her husband, present in the audience. This and “Secondary Characters” from [title of show], performed by Zahnd and Ms. Ziegler, express the theme explicitly and with a good satirical edge. Less successful were Greta Smith’s “Hot Patootie” (The Rocky Horror Show), which misses the boisterous, rock and roll kick that defined the original, and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (Kiss Me Kate) still carries much of its charm with Ms. Smith and Jeff Mangum, but still doesn’t quite reach its potential. Ms. Smith was a light presence onstage and displayed the knowledge of how to put a song across, but her voice just didn’t project well enough.
Yet, sometimes taking a different approach can yield rewards. Mr. Mangum is not a strong singer, but his plaintive and understated take brings the Les Miserables power ballad “On My Own” down to earth and makes the song more relatable.
Taylor Clemons exulted in his performance of “I’m Breaking Down” (Falsettos), ending the song on a note of exhaustion because, you know, going mad takes a lot out of you. And to make sure the show hit on the broadest range of emotions, the “Mama, Look Sharp” (1776) was given a heartbreaking reading by Joanne Sweeney that fully realized its meaning as an anti-war statement.
James Thompson warbled “The Long Grift” in a quiet, soulful manner that belies its origin in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the formidable Marcy Ziegler tore into “Be A Dentist” (Little Shop of Horrors) like she had something to prove. She doesn’t, but she proved it anyway.
Perhaps the best numbers were when the entire ensemble came together. “Populism, Yea, Yea!” (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson), started off the evening with a bang, and the gossipy morality sermon of the satirical “Pick A Little Talk A Little” (The Music Man), is the most pointed gender reversal of the show. And the absolute high point of the evening was “Those Canaan Days” (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), the performance of which brought out all the parody and ridiculousness of the multi-climactic number. The cast displayed no shame and relished the overplaying that is demanded here.
For the performers, the fun of Unhindered is undoubtedly getting to sing songs they would typically never get cast to sing and to do it without of the heavy lifting of developing a character and carrying out an obligation to the larger narrative. That fun carries over to the audience, who get to see the music and lyrics from a different perspective.
The pleasure of a live band for accompaniment was provided by Music Director Low Hale on keyboards, Kevin Hines on guitar, Derek Carpenter on bass, and Donnie Arbuckle on drums.
Unhindered and Ungendered: Minor Characters, Major Songs
March 16 – 24, 2018 @ 7:30 PM
Wayward Actors Company
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.