There are surprisingly few one-actor musicals. Even rarer: solo musicals where the protagonist juggles razor-sharp daggers. Make your one-actor, dagger-juggling musical about a lesbian circus performer in the days of the Wild West and you have — Daggers MacKenzie.
Melissa Kaplan, the composer, lyricist, book writer, and performer, creates an amiable character who has no trouble engaging the audience, or interacting with them. She has a pleasant voice, which she kicks into overdrive for some of her generally tuneful numbers. On the night I saw her, she had trouble with her mic, and was occasionally flat, but your experience may vary. As a vocalist, she’s certainly in the top five percent of people who can also juggle sharp knives.
And, as a juggler, she’s certainly in the top five percent of people who can also sing really well. She takes on three formidable-looking blades and tosses them about six feet into the air, where they tumble slowly until she grabs them on the way down. You probably know this, but juggling knives is trickier than, say, juggling rubber balls, since if you grab the wrong part of the knife it is very messy and unpleasant for those in the front row.
closes July 22, 2017
Details and tickets
As for the story — meh. Daggers, a/k/a Emma, grew up on an apple farm and, tired of living with a mother who didn’t understand her (and particularly her sexuality), decided to run away to join the circus. Miss Annie, the proprietor, takes Emma under her wing and decides to teach her the Sapphic arts. Emma falls in with Violet, who has an animal act. Eventually, Emma asks Annie if she loves her. Daggers is not pleased with the response, and then the bad things happen.
Kaplan uses the songs to illuminate the feelings Daggers has at one moment or another; they are brief, and really don’t take us from one place to the next. Still, they are easy to listen to, and catchy. The real problem with this dialogue-heavy musical, I believe, is that Kaplan doesn’t establish much separation among her three characters, and especially between MacKenzie and Violet. Indeed, when the two of them were in dialogue, I had some difficulty sussing out who was who. And Violet, to be frank, kind of slows down the act; I’m not sure what function she serves, or why we want to know about her.
I once heard someone opine that the Fringe shows were “works in progress.” I don’t believe that’s true — Fringe artists I know work hard to put the most polished product possible on the stage. But Kaplan, who has come to the Fringe from Los Angeles, may be a career in progress, and what she does here is good enough to make me interested in what she might do next.