Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review of "Burt & Me"

Andy Christopher and Lauren Gire in "Burt & Me."  Photo by Jonathan Steele.
The downfall for most jukebox musicals is the show’s book.  A production cannot just recreate the sounds of an artist or group.  Their music must be wrapped around a well-thought out storyline and characters that are interesting and compelling.  The primary issue with Burt & Me, playing through April 7th at the Ivoryton Playhouse, is its run-of-the-mill plot and its unassuming characters.  Yes, the Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs are highly enjoyable and one does not attend a show like this for the narrative, but Larry McKenna’s book could have been a tad more dynamic.  Curiously, lyricist Hal David, who co-wrote the songs in the show, is only mentioned once in, in a quick reference to the musical Promises, Promises, the duo’s solo Broadway collaboration.  But, then, Burt, Dave & Me doesn’t have the same snap as the Burt & Me.

The story is the age-old boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back years later.  We meet the boy, Joe, when he is young and meets the girl, Lacey, in high school.  They become inseparable throughout the four years, but their relationship wanes as both enroll at different colleges.  Along their journey we meet the twosome’s best friends, Jerry, a goofy would-be Casanova, and Sally, the aim of Jerry’s overtures.  Joe’s father, Alex, provides insight and parental guidance to his son.  In the end, no surprise, Joe and Lacey reunite to a romantic Bacharach/David love song.

The material chosen from the vast Burt Bacharach/Hal David catalog form the strength of the revue.  Every number is a toe-tapping hit.  They include such standards as “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “What the World Needs Now,” “The Look of Love,” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”  There is also a generous helping of songs from Promises, Promises. 

Andy Christopher’s Joe has a pleasant, if languid singing voice and a laid-back stage presence, which parallels the smooth, sometimes jazzy riffs of the music. A little more charisma and emotional bearing would have added a lot to his portrayal.  Josh Powell sometimes overplays the, at times, man-child Neal.  His antics at the latter half of the show are more palatable.  Neal Mayer, who plays a number of roles, primarily as Joe’s father, Alex, and a with-it priestly choir director, is comfortable and sagely as he pops up when fatherly advice when needed.  The two central women provide a welcome spark to the production.  Each has a luminous singing voice that vibrantly captures the essence of the musical selections.   Lauren Gire’s Lacey is no-nonsense and spirited.  Adrianne Hick’s Sally is the perfect counterbalance to her best friend.  She is full of spunk with a touch of vulnerability.  Katie Luke’s Rebecca, along with Nathan Richardson’s Nick, amply add support to the main cast members.

Director/Choreographer Brian Feehan seamlessly, if rather methodically, segues in full or partial Burt Bacharach/Hal David compositions.  The pacing is easy-going and unhurried. Occasionally, a jolt of energy would have helped propel the production forward.  There are the intermittent dance numbers, especially “Turkey Lurkey Time,” which do add some vigor to the show.  Expanding the two-person ensemble, maybe doubling the number of actors, would have given the musical a fuller look and feel.

Emily Nichols set design of two large, intersecting circular platforms, is reminiscent of the 1960’s – 1970’s TV variety shows where entertainers sit to the side of center stage, casually talking and swirling their drinks until it’s their time to perform.  Keeping with the television theme, the four-piece band is in full view, located in the back of the stage.

Burt & Me, diverting, relaxing and tuneful, playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse through April 7th.

No comments: