The cast is just amazing. Five women who easily can hold their own in a leading role, working as a combination of ensemble performer and soloist through 25 numbers. While most of those are musical numbers, there are also skits, monologues and poetry readings. The only time I looked at a timepiece was when intermission ran 10 minutes too long.
The women are Michelle Barrow-Ianiro, my old friend Heidi Kobara, Lisa Marie Newton, Ashley Rockwood and Robyn Winslow.
The show starts with the rousing ensemble piece All Girl Band, where each of the five actresses does a little spiel about how they had been put down, but were pulling themselves back up, with a musical metaphor. Being first-string, singing the lead, tooting my own horn, etc. Bless the writer for not banging her own drum. That one's been overdone.
The mood quickly shifts as Lisa and Robyn take seats on opposide sides of the stage and do a cleverly touching number called At My Age. Lisa is a 30+ woman whose husband is gone, about to go on her first blind date. Robyn is a 15-year old about to go on her first date ever. They have almost the same hopes and fears and anticipation and the song (and the way they perform it) brings them together in a charming and poetic way.
Next up is Heidi in a number called Trash. The program says this bit is performed by "All" but it's Heidi's number, everyone else is in a supporting role. The message is this woman is fed up with her hum-drum life as a receptionist in a shoe factory, and yearns to be like the heroine in one of the trashy romance novels she reads.
Lisa comes up next as the poetess who wrote the collection called For Women Only. Let's just say that her rendition of three short poems during the course of the evening gave Women's Poetry a whole new meaning for me. You had to be there.
And the show kept amusing, amazing, charming and entralling me, pulling at heart strings one moment, slapping society upside the head the next.
I won't go through each number, but a couple of other items need mentioning. I Sure Like The Boys is the story about a girl who likes boys who are slow. Slow dancers, slow kissers, slow drivers. It's a very chalenging piece to sing - just when you expect the melody to drop down, Robyn takes it up a few notes higher. It's subtle, how it challenges a singer's range and breath control, she did it way too easily.
Michelle had no one piece which I thought was significantly better than her others. That's because she was so good in all of them. I think her best lines were in the Act I finale, Bluer Than You where she trades off with Robyn and Heidi on who has the most to be singing the blues about. I think it was a tie. But one thing about Michelle, she takes the material she's handed and makes it her own.
Ashley had the honor of singing the only song in the show which I knew, Amanda McBroom's Portrait. She did it very well. Maybe better than Amanda, who tends to go a wee bit over the top at the end. It's a song about a woman looking at a picture of her and her mother long ago, and comparing Mom's Victorian poetess life to her own modern, somewhat empty one. Also noteworthy are the scenes where Ashley plays male characters. It's done with a minor costume addition (hard hat, vest, etc.) so we know it's supposed to be a woman playing a man. None of the women in this cast are remotely masculine, or even androgynous, and I suspect the director picked on Ashley because she's tall.
Speaking of the director, Lisa Mallette did a fine job of casting, keeping the show simple, and letting the superb cast bring out the shine in the music and the stories. One nice touch is she had the cast making the scene changes - this usually just meant moving a bar stool from one part of the stage to another, with the occassional shifting of a small table - often the actress leaving the stage would "spot" the chair for the person who was up next. There was always an acknowledgement by the new arrival of the good deed. I chuckled when I first saw it, because I've only seen this ceremony performed before in two situations. The first is at a Toastmaster's meeting. The second is at a strip club. Never leave an empty stage, and always acknowledge the person who is taking your place.
Shannon Stowe did the choreography, which was also kept simple but interesting. There were some numbers where I could see the players conentrating a little more on the movement than others, but there were no obvious mistakes.
One note about the sound. I hate mikes in small theaters. I'm pretty sure each of these people could have been heard without a sound system, if the keyboard player had turned it down a few notches. They used those tacky little mikes which stick to the side of the face and end in a little button on the cheek. They are distracting to look at, and they absolutely suck from an acoustical point of view because they get the sound indirectly -- there's most of a person's face in the way, and these mikes cannot be directional, planted where they are. I don't know how bad the acoustics are in that space, it looks like it was once a bowling alley or arena which has been split in half - the front half is the stage & audience, the back half is backstage. But for what they spent on the souond system, they probably could have hung an acoustic ceiling. The reason I'm ranting is there were major chunks of the ensemble numbers which were imposible to make out the words for, because the sound operator needed all 5 hands to adjust the levels. With omnidirectional or parabolic mikes, there is no good way for a close-together group of strong singers to be heard as individuals.
One more thing. City Lights has a policy of asking for donations to a worthy cause, and this time the proceeds go to Next Door, Solutions to Domestic Violence a shelter for battered women. When they get their web page up it will be this link but for a detailed write-up on them see United Way's pages right here
Those who donate are given a free copy of a book of poetry written by the cast & crew, loosely based on the style and message of the For Women Only poems in the show. There are some surprising gems in there, and it may also come in handy to prop up the short leg of an outdoor cafe table.
See this show. It's running through June 25, details are Here .