Phoenix Theatre, which brought you such rock musicals as “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” “Spring Awakening” and “Next to Normal,” once again demonstrates its prowess in producing the genre with “Spun,” which opened Thursday on the Livia and Steve Russell Stage. This writer saw the Saturday performance of the show which continues through May 11.
What makes “Spun,” with book by Emily Goodson and music and lyrics by Jeremy Schonfeld, especially noteworthy, however, is that it is a new work. It was originally commissioned and produced by fellow Phoenix National New Play Network (NNPN) member Bloomington Playwrights Project. And if there were ever a fresh new vehicle destined for success, it would be “Spun.” With its absorbing script and exuberant, toe tapping score, it has the potential to attract wider audiences beyond the Phoenix, where it will surely be a hit, setting the stage for its promising future.
“Spun” explores the relationship between Molly and Jesse, a brother and sister whose father’s death reunites them after their eight year separation from one another. It was a traumatic event that tore the two apart and one they are forced to relive as they examine their differing perceptions of what occurred and work through mutual blaming, doubt, rivalry and resentment to find forgiveness. Sounds pretty dreary doesn’t it? Fear not. To ensure that things don’t become too maudlin, playwright Goodson has infused the story with enough levity and laughs that hope for the individually broken siblings to eventually reconcile is always present.
Bloomington Playwrights Project producing artistic director Chad Rabinovitz directed “Spun,” and what a superb job he did in guiding Lisa Ermel and Chris Roe, the ideally cast actors who played Molly and Jesse.
Ermel’s potent portrayal of Molly, whose angry, tough exterior belies the wounded artist within, was striking, as was her sizzling rock chick performance during musical numbers that showcased vocals that were formidable in both their power and range.
Roe was equally dynamic as both an actor and singer in his characterization of older brother Jesse, a high school dropout who left home to escape his dysfunctional family life but returns to confront those issues that have left him lost and damaged. Also an impressive showman and musician, Roe accompanied himself and Ermel on an electric percussion guitar.
Together Ermel and Roe showed chemistry as warring sibs whose love and affection for one another is evident despite the tension that exists and distrust and animosity that serves as a barrier between them.
Also accompanying the performers was an exceptional band. Consisting of music director Tim Brickley (also Phoenix resident composer and sound designer) on lead guitar, Dietrick Kooster on bass, Rex Martin on keyboard, and Dan Marquis on drums, the musicians performed Schonfeld’s appealing score which incorporated pop, rock, blues and folk music. Particularly entertaining was “One Night, One Set,” sung by Molly and Jesse, who at one time performed together as members of a band; "God Give Me," a send up of the "Serenity Prayer": “Happy Song,” a silly tune Jesse composes on the spot as he tries to lighten the mood during some very grim circumstances; “Mother Blue,” which Molly and Jesse sing in tribute to their mom during one of the production's most touching scenes; and “Burning It Down,” sung during the show’s cathartic, upbeat conclusion.
Those responsible for the appropriately urban look and sound of “Spun” include Shane Cinal, who designed the deteriorated, cluttered garage that serves as the show’s set; Lee Burckes, whose lighting design replicates that of a rock concert; Ben Dobler, the audio and electric supervisor whose sound mix ensured that the band did not overpower the singers; Rebecca Itow, whose choreography gave Ermel and Roe the movement their character’s rock personas required; and props master and costume designer Ashley Kiefer, who completed what was a thoroughly engaging and engrossing illusion.
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