Written by Jeff Ward
Directed by Michael Schiralli
As Ernest Hemingway famously stated, “The first draft of anything is s**t.” Apparently playwright-songwriter Jeff Ward agrees, as none of TAKE ONE’s hapless heroes gets anything right on the first draft. Even Jehovah himself finds the creative process exasperating. But thanks to a tuneful score, bright dialogue and clever lyrics, the tribulations of history’s frustrated geniuses are extremely fun to watch.
Somewhat reminiscent of David Ives’s short play collections, the play comprises three separate thematically linked once acts. The evening begins at the Beginning, as God (Tom Alan Robbins) endeavors to create a world in which something interesting is liable to happen. His intentions are somewhat perverse, however, as he secretly hopes that Adam (Rob Brinkmann) and Eve (L.R. Davidson) will sneak a taste of the fruit he has forbidden them to touch. Even when the Serpent (Caroline Schmidt) sashays around the garden in slinky green gown, she cannot tempt the first couple into doing the wrong thing. Fearful that his Book of Genesis is going to end up a very dull read, God next attempts to turn Cain (Corrado Alicata) against his brother Abel (Carl Howell). The result of His efforts are, again, confounding.
Flash forward to the Florentine renaissance, where Michelangelo (Keith Varney) labors tirelessly on the Sistine Chapel. Then as now, the artist is perpetual conflict with the money man. Pope Julius (Alicata) complains about everything from Michelangelo’s personal hygiene to the sluggish pace at which he paints. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that Michelangelo’s first ceiling is a little too far ahead of its time. Much to the delight of his rivals Leonardo (Robbins) and Raphael (Brinkmann), Mich is badly out of favor with the Vatican. Thankfully, a muse arrives in the form of a young apprentice. Ludovico (Howell) isn’t the sharpest chisel in the box, but his youth, beauty and good-hearted innocence give the master a new lease on life. Alas, even their happiness is short lived, as politics inevitably clashes with both art and love.
Fittingly for a musical theater writer, Ward chooses Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! as his next major event in the story of civilization. In an era when Broadway spectaculars had always featured lighthearted ditties and leggy chorus girls, Oscar Hammerstein (Varney) is ready to break new ground. In order for a plot-driven musical to work, however, certain songs will have to be cut. Dick Rodgers (Howell), will have none of it. Insisting that the song must stay, he meets with resistance from everyone from his wife Celeste (Schmidt) to producer Rouben Mamoulian (Robbins). Killing one’s darlings has never been an easy task, but Oscar’s powers of persuasion are not to be underestimated.
All three mini-musicals are as solidly crafted and sport unexpected twists as well as clever cultural references. Of the three, the middle piece has the most heart. Michelangelo’s resigned self-assessment (“I’m 28, and nearly dead”) stands out in sharp contrast to 17 year old Ludo’s purity of spirit. Their ill-fated effort at mutual redemption forms a narrative through line on which they pin the piece’s satirical conceits. Director Michael Schiralli adds a touch of visual wit with sly references to the iconic poses Michelangelo’s masterworks.
The actors, hip to the quirky rhythms of Ward’s David comic sensibility, are committed to their roles and strong on vocal dexterity. Betsy Rugg-Hind’s costumes Lauren Page Russell’s set and prop designs add opulence and graphic whimsy to the proceedings.
TAKE ONE has completed its run at the Fringe, but will likely be transferred to another venue. Check http://www.takeonethemusical.com for updates: