By Andrew Poretz . . .
The second night of “Winter Rhythms 2021”(December 8) brought us Ludlow Ladd, a charming hodgepodge of a holiday family operetta. With a libretto by “Algonquin Kid” Michael Colby and music by Gerald Jay Markoe, Ludlow Ladd is “part Dickens, part Gilbert and Sullivan, and part Fractured Fairy Tales. Ludlow Ladd is the long-awaited prequel to their acclaimed musical Charlotte Sweet, which was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in 1983.
The story is set in Victorian Liverpool, though some of the actors’ accents sounded closer to East London, and were inconsistent. Through mock-Christmas carols, the operetta, in which all dialogue is rhymed and sung, tells the story of Ludlow Ladd (Joshua Turchin), a poor young orphan in Victorian Liverpool. It is both Christmas night and his birthday, and Ludlow wanders the streets, searching for a home. The eccentric Grimbles take him to their house, already crammed with animals, plants, and Prudence, their bratty daughter, played by the young ingenue Megan Styrna. After annoying the Grimbles, Ludlow is left alone with their Christmas tree. The tree turns into the magical Misssus Pinecones, who whisks him to the Land of Yuletime Cheer where dreams can come true—resulting in a perversely sweet holiday miracle.
Tonight’s staging at the black-box Urban Stages theater included a one-time opening chorus of a dozen young singers to set up the story. The eight main characters then took seats, and performed their songs with the accompaniment of Michael Lavine. The performance was a musical reading, with the actors “on book” for the show.
A highlight of the many songs was “Little House of Liverpool,” which seems to be a sort of “Oh Little House of Bethlehem”. Here, Michael Lavine conducted the cast standing at the piano, as they sang the piece a capella with luscious harmonies.
Joshua Turchin’s newsboy character of Ludlow Ladd could have been a character in the “Newsies” Broadway musical. Vocally, he brought to mind Michael Crawford’s “Cornelius” in the film “Hello Dolly!” While the cast was excellent all around, there were several standout performers. Isabel Robin (Daisy/Gingerbread Woman), is a wonderfully expressive actor and singer with a flair for comedy, a bit of a Celeste Holm type of performer, and she lit up the stage throughout the show. Megan Styrna (Prudence Grimble/Ragdoll), a recent graduate from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, is a classic ingenue with a luminescent beauty and a gorgeous coloratura soprano. Her chest voice would sound great in jazz and pop. Megan owned the songs, the part and the stage, with her solo work being off-book entirely, allowing her the freedom to explore the physicality of her character. In a moment when her black headband accidentally popped off and her hair fell down, she did not miss a beat, and a star was born. Nick Lunetta (Tin Soldier) added much depth to the sound with his deep, mellifluous baritone. Adam B. Shapiro’s burly presence as the Grimble patriarch is another solid performance by the actor, who played the Rabbi in the hit Yiddish version of “Fiddler on the Roof”.
Without the benefit of spoken dialogue or a narrator, the story was a little hard to follow at times. Still, the songs were good, fun, and well-sung. It will be interesting to see this show when it is fully staged in a future performance.
Ludlow Ladd in Concert
Directed by Sara Louise Lazarus
Music director and accompanist: Michael Lavine
Nick Lunetta (Tin Soldier)
Luke Naphat (Prescott Grimble)
Maureen Taylor (Muriel McNulty/Missus Pinecones)
Isabel Robin (Daisy/Gingerbread Woman)
Shawna Hamic (Hester Grimble/Mrs. Santa)
Megan Styrna (Prudence Grimble/Ragdoll)
Joshua Turchin (Ludlow Ladd)
Adam B. Shapiro (Nestor Grimble/Jack Frost)
Ludlow Ladd in Concert has an additional performance on Saturday, December 11, at 2 p.m.
Urban Stages Theater 259 West 30th Street, NYC – part of Winter Rhythms Annual Festival that continues thru December 19. More here: https://urbanstages.org/winter-rhythms-2021
Photos: Michael Lee Stever