Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The conceit of the show is that four close friends are visiting their local Natural History Museum and the exhibits at the museum and events that happen to them that day become the launch pad for the personal songs and stories they sing and tell. But, for the most part, these connections with the museum exhibits are extreme stretches. For example, an exhibit on Darwin and his theory on the survival of the fittest and natural selection becomes a song about trying to fit in with the "in" crowd by wearing Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or a Members Only jacket. I'm not exactly sure what Darwin would say about that analysis. The title of the show comes from Thomas Merton's theory of living in the moment, at the intersection of the Now, the Here, and the This. However, almost all of the stories and songs in the show are about past experiences so, while they may form the makeup of who these four people are today, they don't exactly quite relate to living in the moment. Fortunately, after a disjointed first act, the second act features some exceptional songs and personal stories that are actually quite moving. And, while they have very little to do with the museum setting or Merton's theory, they do resonate as universally relevant themes and messages.
The A/C cast is quite skilled in making the stories and songs not only seem relatable but also inherent to themselves and personal as well. This could be quite difficult in less talented hands, considering that the four characters are based on the original four actors who appeared in both [title of show] and Now. Here. This., three of whom are credited with the show's book and score. The extremely close friendship of the original foursomeHunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff, and Jeff Bowencomes across in the show. However, some of the interplay between the quartet and the quirky nature of the individuals gets lost in translation when performed by others.
Tracy Payne Black gets the best material in the show, including moving stories about her character's father and growing up with a hoarder for a parent. Her vocals, like those of the rest of the cast, are impressive, delivering an emotional, almost introspective connection to the lyrics. While Brenda Jean Foley's character is mostly used as counterpoint to the others, her rendition of "This Time" is quite beautiful. Kevin Fenderson and Micah Jondel DeShazer deliver most of the comic moments and are good in their portrayals. DeShazer does well in displaying his character's short attention span, especially in the song "Archer," and Fenderson has an endearing charm and smooth, stellar vocals that deliver.
Even with just a basic set composed of a few risers, director Thomas Strawser does an impressive job of creating the various areas of the museum. He smartly uses the entire space without making it seem too busy and derives upbeat, varied performances from his cast. Choreography by Lynzee Foreman and Shani Barrett is fun and ties nicely to the lyrics. There are plenty of lush harmonies in Bowen's varied score, and Curtis Moeller's music direction ensures they sound lovely.
Now. Here. This. is far from a perfect musical, but there are several moments where the material and characters come together to deliver emotionally relevant material. It is unfortunately only at those times that this A/C Theatre Company production truly soars.
A/C Theatre Company's production of Now. Here. This. runs through March 26th,, 2016, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling (602) 254-2151 or at www.actheatrecompany.org.
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Bowen
*Member, Actors' Equity Association