A New Musical
Book by Ronan Marra
Music & Lyrics by Jon Steinhagen
Musical Direction by Jon Steinhagen
At Signal Ensemble, Chicago
Film spoof becomes a musical with mixed results
The artists at Signal Ensemble love to mount original, homegrown works. Their latest, The Next Thing, is a new musical book written by Signal Ensemble’s artistic director, Ronan Marra, who also directs and fellow Signal Ensemble member Jon Steinhagen, a prolific composer and tune-smith with a fine body of musicals to his credit. In The Next Thing, Steinhagen has some terrific songs in the classic Broadway more including a few cute ditties and a couple of fine ballads. The score is the best part of The Next Thing.
The Next Thing is a love story as well as a spoof of those old MGM musical films with a few contemporary twists. Kate (Courtney Jones) and Conor (Christopher Selefski) are ambitious actors who are opposites – Kate is British and Conor is American; they quickly dislike each other as they do a film together. Of course, they are cast in more films as producer Laura Golden (Eleanor Katz) loves hit films. The two clash since Conor uses his ‘rap-street talk’ obnoxious manner to irritate Kate (and the audience).
Marra’s book tries to cover too many stories that includes the troubled relationship with film director Sam Donovan (Joseph Stearns) and producer Laura Golden with a cameo about an old English actor, Herbert Corningfield (Vincent L. Lonergan) who revives his career with help from Conor. The book has its moments with humor and old-time Broadway pizzazz.
Marra’s book and Steinhagen score suffer from casting that finds few players who can sing. That spells trouble for a musical. True that Joseph Stearns and Vincent Lonergan adequately deliver their clever tunes and Courtney Jones sings her ballads with heart and an adequate voice, but the rest of the cast can’t sing well enough to do justice to Steinhagen’s score. While Christopher Selefski work hard, he is miscast as Conor Williams, the film star. Selefski never conveys the charisma nor the vocal chops necessary to carry the male lead. When a musical has too many weak singers and dancers who labor to land basic Broadway-style choreography, it makes for a long evening.
The Next Thing needs a stronger cast to do justice to Marra’s book and Steinhagen’s fine songs. There are hints of a terrific musical here that needs musical talents to make it work.
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Bernice, Chicago, IL, call 773-698-7389 tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.