The Village Playbox of Haddon Heights is breaking new ground as the first theatre group in the area to present “Lies and Legends: The Musical Stories of Harry Chapin.” Chapin was only 38 when he died in an automobile crash on July 16, 1981, but he left a rich legacy of unforgettable songs, which told a story (“Taxi”) or reflected on life (“Circle”). Some of the songs are familiar, even to people born long after his death, such as the aforementioned “Taxi” and “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Others, like “W.O.L.D.,” the story of an aging disc jockey, may be familiar to some. Most of the 26 songs that make up the show are not well known, but are no less memorable.
Director John Blackwell, producer Ashley Reimer and music director Mark Kozachyn have assembled a cast of five phenomenally talented people who perform equally well both solo and in ensemble. Danielle DiPillo displays not only awesome acting ability but a lovely soprano voice, especially in “Winter Song.” Tyrone Fuimiano sings and acts impressively in “The Rock” and “Halfway to Heaven.” Amanda Kochey, who joined the cast only two weeks before opening night, amazes with her renditions of “Shooting Star” and “Tangled Up Puppet.” Greg Murphy is a fine dramatic actor/singer in “W.O.L.D.” and “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and also shows off his comedic ability in “Bananas.” Michael Post, who also choreographed the lively dances, shines in his performance of “Taxi” and other songs.
The songs can be as chilling as “Sniper,” about the 1961 Texas tower killer Charles Whitman (Michael), which offers an all-too-timely glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer. Or they can be as touching as “Mail Order Annie,” in which a young Midwestern farmer of another era (Michael) comes to a railroad station to meet his mail-order bride (Danielle). But all ends with the cast dancing with audience members in a joyous finale.
Musical accompaniment is ably provided by Mike Kozachyn or Jeff Reim on keyboard and Glenn Fennimore on drums. Michael also plays guitar and banjo, and there are brief solos by Greg on harmonica and Amanda on flute. The set, designed by director John Blackwell and Bill Shaughnessy, is colorful and imaginative. And the use of recordings of Harry Chapin speaking of his songs, plus slides on a wall near the stage, do much to enhance the production.
If you love Harry Chapin, or popular music, or just great theatre, you should not miss this show. The dates are February 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 15 and 16, 2013, at 8:00 PM, with one matinee on February 10, at 3 PM at First Presbyterian Church, Green Street at Seventh Avenue, Haddon Heights. Tickets are $18.00 (15.00 online) for general admission, $16.00 ($13.00 online) for seniors, and $12.00 ($10.00 online) for students.
Harry Chapin was a dedicated philanthropist, particularly in fighting hunger in the United States and around the world. In 1975, he co-founded World Hunger Year. To continue his cause, the Village Playbox has teamed with the N3C Food Pantry of South Jersey, and asks that everyone attending “Lies and Legends: The Musical Stories of Harry Chapin” bring a nonperishable food item. The Food Pantry is especially in need of canned vegetables and soups.