Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond know their way around a musical. Broadway performers like Patina Miller, Heidi Blickenstaff and Christopher Siebber know that and lined up to sing on their first album, Out of Our Heads. The Fred Ebb and Lorenz Hart/ASCAP Awards judges agree. And those of you who saw Orphie and the Book of Shadows at the Kennedy Center last February are in on it too.
The rest of you now have a chance to discover them at Unexpected Stage Company’s production of Dani Girl, about a nine year old girl with leukemia, opened this past weekend. Depressing? Sad? Not at all. Well, not until it needs to be. Rather, Dani Girl is funny, it’s playful, it’s full of hope and its creators have gifted the story with a beautiful score and clever lyrics.
Dani has had leukemia since infancy. Beating the disease once, she’s back in the hospital. As treatments fail, her mother clings to her faith as she sees her only child slip away. Rest and prayer, she assures her, is best. But as soon as Mother leaves, Dani’s imaginary, showboating guardian angel Raph pops in, drops in, or tumbles in, ready to get the next fantasy game going.
Dani almost wins Trivial Pursuit of Death, but loses on the last question: Why is cancer? The only way to get back the hair she’s lost to chemo, Raph as game show host tells her, is to find that answer. Dani isn’t alone in her hospital room for long. Marty, a boy about her age who also has Hodgkins Disease, becomes her roommate. While Dani is brave, adventurous, determined and self confident, Marty is her opposite. Nevertheless, they join forces, and set off to hunt down Cancer itself, lodged in the body of her stuffed teddy bear.
This isn’t a Disney trip to a cancer ward. With songs like “Side by Side by Suicide”, “God Is Dead” and “Comaland,” it may not be a show for most children, although the few who were there when I saw it loved Dani and Marty’s explosive exit through teddy’s sphincter.
Caroline Wolfson not only plays a believable nine year old, she has a clear and assured voice for musicals that easily rises anywhere from a whisper to a belt. Maggie Robertson also has a beautiful voice, though we hear less from her musically until her final song.
Zach Brewster-Geisz, who we’ve seen a lot of this year (I’m thinking of his villainous Lord Hastings in Richard III at NextStop) is surprisingly perfect as the nine year old curmudgeon Marty, though, let’s be kind, his gift for acting helps him through his songs. Well done, all.
But the biggest discovery is Joshua Simon who plays all the other characters and gets to sing and sell his way through the show in just about every musical styling the composers can think of to throw at him. Casting directors – see this triple threat actor and give him work!
Had a Muse dropped the Dani concept anywhere else, it might have become a play or a graphic novel. But in the hands of Kooman and Dimond, it’s an engaging, old style musical – you know where the melodies are hummable, the lyrics have plenty of wit and the songs actually propel the play forward.
And boy do they move quickly. From “Trivial Pursuit of Death” where Dani loses the game but gets her mission, to bonding with mate Marty, to the ride through the bear’s body and up to Heaven’s gate.
Robertson as Mother gets the eleven o’clock number: the beautiful and heartbreaking “The Sun still Rose.”
But the musical is on the fast track to a happily ever after ending, so it’s a few more twists on the ride, then the cathartic finale.
Closes August 10, 2014
Randolph Road Theatre
4010 Randolph Road Silver Spring
1 hour, 40 minutes
Tickets: $7 to $25
Details and Tickets
A first rate musical production the equal to any from the major musicals producers in our area, by Unexpected Stage Company, whose presence in a government center auditorium on the outskirts of Silver Spring (the original Round House Theatre) may not yet be on your radar.
But I encourage you to get there before it closes August 10th to discover this sweetly inventive, memorable musical from Kooman and Dimond, this talented cast and an exciting young company, who, it’s now time to tell you, has just produced their first musical.