by: Susan Hasho
The musical Songbird opens with Kate Baldwin spotlighted behind a microphone as Tammy Trip singing in her Grand Ole Opry debut, “Small Town Heart.” The play then segues to a bar in Nashville, Tennessee. Boy, there’s a lot of drinkin’ that goes on in Nashville, at least in the Nashville of Songbird. In this bar, owners and friends are all asked if they want a drink, repeatedly. We are introduced to the lineup of characters. Everyone is looking forward to seeing Tammy, the hometown girl and big country star, who’s coming to open for her son Dean’s debut. Mia, the apple of Dean’s eye, joins the group; she’s going to sing with Dean that night.
Tammy arrives, it’s show time, she introduces her son, and takes the stage to sing the song “Country Roads.” The crowd applauds and she sits down at a table with her young songwriter boyfriend Beck. Mia takes the stage and fumbles with the mic but recovers and sings Dean’s song “Wandering” with Dean joining. The play gathers steam as Tammy begins to interject comments loudly about the act. Sarcastically, “This is really exciting.” Comment piles upon comment until she finishes with, “It sounds like Soren is “Wandering” when it’s going to end.”(reference to the song Dean and Mia are singing) Thus the relationship between mother and son is sharply revealed, and the set up for the tragic end is cleverly fulfilled.
It soon becomes evident, that Songbird is based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. However, what keeps the show from seeming obviously derivative, is that the creators (Book by Michael Kimmel; Music & Lyrics by Lauren Pritchard), have developed a country and western musical. To their credit, they have made no secret of their source; and Nashville is culturally a long way from Russia. But the requisite themes of The Seagull: jealousy, dashed hopes, abandonment and tragic disappointment are threaded throughout and each character created in beautiful detail.
There’s an enormous amount of talent in the cast and they are ably directed by JV Mercanti. Kate Baldwin plays a self-concerned diva with some small regret that she couldn’t be a better mother and doesn’t sugar coat the task; she is complicated and wonderful. All the women – Kacie Sheik as Missy, Ephie Aardema as Mia, Erin Dilly as Pauline create full, true performances. Adam Cochran as Tammy’s son Dean is perfectly disappointed and completely avoids cliché in his performance. Don Guillory as Rip, Bob Stillman as Soren, Andy Taylor as Samuel, Drew McVety as Doc, and Eric William Morris as the younger boyfriend Beck, are all excellent musicians as well as fine actors.
Songbird doesn’t quite thrill. The concept is promising, the actors beautifully cast and clearly interesting, but the music and lyrics are predictable. Somehow the country and western conceit pulls The Seagull into cliché. Country and western music may be too clearly defined with a life of its own to be used to serve as a musical derived from the Seagull. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile experience, created with heart and talent.
The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00pm; Friday at 8:00pm; Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00pm; and Sunday at 3:00pm. running thru Sun. November 29th.
59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25 ($17.50 for Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org
Photos: Jenny Anderson
Opening Night Photos: https://www.theaterpizzazz.com/songbird-opening-night/