My Name Is Annie King

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Book by Krista Pioppi.

Music and Lyrics by Aaron Albert & Katy Rea.

Directed by Alex Higgin-Houser.

Produced by Underscore Theatre Company.

At Pride Arts Center, The Broadway, Chicago.

Ambitious new musical covers mystery, a cult and seduction and a unique score.

Under the leadership of Alex Higgin-Houser, Underscore Theatre Company has mounted several worthy new musicals including Borderlands, and Haymarket: The Anarchist’s Songbook, among others.  Underscore Theatre Company is dedicated to mounting new musicals. Kudos to them!

Their latest musical is My Name Is Annie King,  A New Blusgrass Thriller with book by Krista Pioppi and music and lyrics by Aaron Albert and Katy Rea. Alex Higgin-Houser directs. This new work ambitious, complicated and unique in its musical composition. It is billed as a bluegrass musical but minus the banjo and mandolin, it sounds as much more of a pop/folk score with hints of bluegrass and down-home country.  While the score works for the show, it lacks a few memorable or “take-home” songs as in the Jerry Herman model. But the score is pleasantly in the mood and spirit of the musical thriller.

The story: “Lucas Embry (Royen Kent), a young med student still reeling from the death of his estranged father, finds himself after an alcohol- and drug-fueled episode amidst a religious cult in the woods of Missouri. Seduced by the charisma of the cult’s leader (Jeff Mills, who looks like Charles Manson) and his many female followers, Lucas finds himself drawn into hallucinogenic rituals, an undercurrent of dark sexuality, and the promise of a home he never knew. But when he starts to fall for the leader’s ersatz daughter (Paige Daigle), he sets off a chain reaction that can only end in death.” -press notes.

This provocatively haunting musical thriller is anchored by the charm of Royen Kent, whose vocal clarity and guanine goodness anchors the show. Cash, Jeff Mills is the charismatic cult leader with a following of six woman including the innocent young girl Rosalie (Paige Daigle).   This thriller has a fine score of ballads, anthems, uptempo celebrity tunes, love songs, and bluesy songs. Unfortunately, several of the female solo songs, due to a combination of the arrangements and difficult lyrics to sing were hard to understand.

Without giving away more, let me state that My Name Is Annie King is a most entertaining chamber folk musical with a worthy book, a fine cast (epeciallyRoyen Kent and Paige Daigle) and a refreshing musical style of folk/pop/ with influences of blusgress. The six women here create some fine harmonies.

As with many new musicals, My Name Is Annie King could use some updates in the book, especially what is Cash’s ailment? and more about Lucas’ past family life. Musically, better articulation for Rosalie’s songs. Adding a mandolin and a banjo to give the score a true bluegrass sound would help.  However, as it now plays, My Name Is Annie King is a most entertaining new musical with enough mystery and folksy songs to be a treat. This is a refreshingly creative new show that pleases. Take a look at a 21st Century new creation, you’ll like the trend.

Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: April 30, 2017.

For more info see the My Name Is Annie King page at theatreinchicago.com.

At the Pride Center – The Broadway, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, www.underscoretheatre.org, tickets $20 – $30, Fridays, Saturdays & Mondays at 7:30, Sundays at 5 pm,  additional performances on Saturday.May 20 at 3 pm, Thursday, May 25 at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, May 27 at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15  minutes with intermission, through May 28, 2017.

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