By Marcina Zaccaria . . .

In the delicate art of musical theater development, Brilliance comes a long way in sharing the joys and sorrows of the fame game.

With Book, Music & Lyrics by Lance Lewman and Additional Music & Lyrics by Kristan King & Gabriel Kane, Brilliance, directed by Lance Lewman, tells the story of Frances Farmer, a starlet working her way through the Hollywood system.  Tap dancing to stardom, she perfects each detail.  The music has never sounded better, and Bethany McDonald who plays Frances, nails it.  Her soprano tone is melodious, and the tunes sound great, even with keyboard and percussion, hiding behind the small curtain in the upstairs space at The Players Theatre.

Bethany McDonald and Company

This musical looks back to the days when Broadway crossed with the Hollywood scene.  Some favorite themes are investigated, like navigating uncharted land and enduring the undeserving stints of rehab that artists are so inclined to sail through.  Frances becomes addicted to alcohol.  She makes a few unpopular moves, particularly scorned in the days before women became liberated in the workplace and at home.  Dancing her way to her own hell, she is commanded to a psychiatric hospital after receiving a Drunk and Disorderly charge. 

More mature than a Baby June raised in the vaudeville circuit, she stands by her mother, played by Jeri Sager.  The Farmer Family seems misguided or confused by the fame game, not knowing which twists and turns they should make their own.  With the Red Scare on Hollywood surrounding them, Ms. Farmer’s world becomes a rehabilitation nightmare where ECT is referenced in the choreography.  The mother remains concerned but cold, particularly as she misses the importance of appreciating the depth of the artist’s journey over time. 

Jeri Sager

Brilliance boasts a wise and dedicated ensemble who exercise their intelligence while recognizing each other’s strengths.  Act Two happens largely in the Medical Center where Frances makes it through her second stint in rehab.  Sanity is questioned and loneliness is suffered.  Containment challenges opportunities for release.  The vocal command of all the Players remains admirable through it all. 

Perhaps, it is the mother’s stagnant perception that leads Frances to discoveries.  Such revelations are the dream of the Musical Theater artist.  If it is the mother/ daughter relationship that is under the microscope, the revelation is that crazy might be in the eye of the beholder.  Without context or understanding of the larger landscape controlling the environment, we’re unable to appreciate our fascination with the starlets who give us hope and ask us to stand for what we truly believe in. 

Brilliance played from April 7th through  April 24th at the Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre at The Players Theatre, located at 115 MacDougal Street in New York City.

Lead Photo: Bethany McDonald & Company