It’s happened: global warming has brought the world to the brink of an environmental apocalypse. Earth’s atmosphere can only support human life for one more year—maybe less. What do you do in your last few months of life?
Such is the dilemma facing twentysomething Charlie (Julia Capizzi) in Highwood Theatre’s production of the musical Soon. Sitting stunned on her East Village couch, glued to Wolf Blitzer’s increasingly dire predictions of doom, some decisions come easy: ditch the Splenda™ and splurge on junk food; eat the peanut butter directly from the jar. But others leave her paralyzed: is it still worth going to work every day? Pursuing her culinary ambition of inventing the next great baked-good mashup? Falling in love?
Enter Jonah (Daniel Westbrook), a charming grocery-delivery boy who, brightening Charlie’s doorstep with baking ingredients, is smitten at first sight. Unabashedly optimistic, Jonah talks his way in to Charlie’s life, encouraging her confectionary-creations and buoying her hopes that there just might be things left worth living for.
Yet, despite Jonah’s puppy-like attention, Charlie continues to pull away, retreating in fear to her couch for marathon binge-sessions of CNN. Even her best friend and roommate Stephen (Andrew Overton) begins to worry when his playful banter and scandalizing tales of sexual-exploits-about-town fail to pull Charlie out of her funk. And we know it’s bad when Charlie’s mother Adrienne (Karen Harris)—a former East Village hellion-turned Connecticut divorcee—abandons her beloved happy hour to check in with her daughter at home.
Soon, with book, music and lyrics by DC native Nick Blaemire, made its world premiere at Signature Theatre in 2015. Highwood Theatre’s production, directed by Cate Caplin and performed in an intimate black box theater with an audience of only 3 rows, is rough around the edges but nonetheless showcases a cast of young professional actors with great promise.
Many of the show’s weaknesses seem to stem from the book itself. At the outset, Blaemire attempts to address an overly-wide breadth of issues, ranging from human beings’ culpability for environmental destruction and global warming to the “correct” way to deal with our own mortality. It is not surprising that many plot points embarked upon are never satisfactorily developed or resolved. Conversely, Blaemire sometimes resorts to “easy fixes” to tie up plot threads that either seem trite or come entirely out of the blue. We learn early on that Jonah is not just a grocery delivery boy, but heir to a grocery chain fortune. When a late plot twist reveals that Charlie’s fears may be rooted in a more personal struggle, Jonah’s family money and consequent political sway could save the day. (Deus ex Trustafarian?)
closes April 28, 2018
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Perhaps most distracting is the timeline of the play. Soon’s scenes pinball back and forth through time over a period of six months, sometimes changing as often as every few minutes. While Highwood’s production attempts to address this by projecting a “date stamp” on the back wall of the stage for a few moments at each transition, the result is nonetheless confusing and more could have been done with costumes, props and other visual clues to assist the audience.
The music of Soon is discordant and offbeat—reminiscent of collaborations between Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (Falsettos, Into the Woods). With the exception of a few more jaunty, traditional numbers (“Bohemian Paradiso” and “Where Are You?”) the songs don’t follow any traditional verse-refrain patterns and feature complicated, close harmonies that sometimes miss their mark, clashing unappealingly. Perhaps for this reason, the cast overall seems to struggle with pitch throughout, a problem amplified by microphone headsets that seem unnecessary in such a small space.
Capizzi nonetheless admirably assumes a marathon-of-a lead role that has her on stage for nearly the entire 1-hour, 40-minute run time. At best in up-beat, frolicsome numbers that showcase her clear, bright mezzo belt, Capizzi’s vocal performance sometimes falls flat in quieter moments. Similarly, Capizzi’s acting succeeds in comic and playfully-romantic moments, to which she brings an impish energy, but struggles somewhat with maintaining energy and presence in a role that more often commands an air of sullenness and defeat.
Westbrook, who likewise struggles with Blaemire’s difficult and sometimes inharmonious score, nonetheless brings clear talent and technical proficiency to the stage. Westbrook is most convincing in tender moments and ultimately succeeds as Charlie’s constant champion and would-be beau.
Overton—who enjoys the lion’s share of the show’s comedic moments—is positively delightful as Steven, displaying a clear flair for physical comedy and a precocious stage presence. Alternating between poise and silly swagger, Overton’s on-stage moments bring a welcome uptick in energy and brightness to the show’s sometimes-leaden pace.
But Harris, as Charlie’s tipsily brash mother, is the true scene-stealer, single-handedly raising the energy level of the show each time she takes the stage and contributing strong, confident vocals and excellent comedic timing.
Highwood Theatre’s production of Soon is performed by two separate, rotating casts: a cast of professional actors (as reviewed here); and a second cast comprised of local High School seniors. Soon’s stage production team—including its crew and set, lighting and sound design—includes local middle and high school students, offering them the opportunity to engage in professional theatre at an early age.
Soon . Book, music and lyrics by Nick Blaemire. Directed by Cate Caplin. Featuring Julia Capizzi (Charlie); Daniel Westbrook (Jonah); Andrew Overton (Steven), Karen Harris (Adrienne), Angel Soriano (Newscaster) and Yael Kissel (Commercial Voice). Stage Manager: Lu Collina. Vocal Director: Ashlee Albertson. Production Manager: Jade Brooks-Bartlett. Musicians: Kevin Kearney and Cecilia Russell. Costume Design: Tip Letsche. Set Design: Fiona Lipczenko, Dante Stasio and Simon Ellerbe. Sound and Projection Design: Simon Ellerbe. Lighting Design: Jonah Witte, Eliana Beals-Simon. Prop Design: Jade Brooks-Bartlett. Produced by Highwood Theatre. Reviewed by Meaghan Hannan Davant.