Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera has launched a new program called SPARK; an initiative created to develop and produce news musicals with smaller casts and scaled down productions which would fit not only in the CLO Cabaret space downtown, but similarly sized venues across the country. One of the goals is bring about musical theater “relatable” to a younger audience.
To that end they’ve just mounted a new “interactive” show Game On from a concept by David Dabbon – who also wrote music – with book and lyrics by Pittsburgh’s own Marcus Stevens. The results are certainly interesting, often entertaining and reflecting very well indeed on the SPARK program.
Game On continues through January 27. CLO Cabaret, Downtown. 412/456-6666. www.CLOCabaret.com
It’s 90 intermission-less minutes and we’re inside a slick TV studio (a terrific set by Tim Mackabee, beautifully lit by Alan C. Edwards) for a live broadcast of a popular game show called “Game On.” I’m embarrassed to admit this but I don’t own a television set so I’m not sure which particular TV game show was being satirized, but I think it’s Deal or No Deal? There’s a bunch of numbered boxes on display, contestants select a one and an off-stage “Executive” will occasionally offer to trade various sums of money for the box. If the contestant takes the cash it’s “game over,” but if she rejects the offer and sticks with the box it’s “game on.” Because this is a special 10 year anniversary broadcast, one of the boxes contains $10 million.
The host is Monty Price and his lovely assistant is Gillian (played with enormous enthusiasm, determination and charm by Jason Shavers and Marissa Buchheit) and it’s Monty’s job to pick four contestants from the audience; three are plants (I mean, actors playing contestants) with one slot open for an actual audience member. This is where the interactive part comes in; each night it’s a different person dragged up on stage where, it is to be hoped, hilarity will ensue. The way it’s written (and cleverly so) this person doesn’t make it very far into the game before being disqualified giving Dabbon and Stevens plenty of room to tell the story they have in mind.
And that story is about personal fulfillment and having the chance (or second chance) to find your happiness. The musical moments of Game On are the interior monologues sung by the three constants; There’s Grace, an older lady from the mid-West who’s lost her husband and her children are scattered across the county. Loneliness has taken a toll and this game may be Grace’s last chance to restart her life.
Also called up are Felix and Natalie – though they’ve arrived separately it turns out that just a few years back they ended a very long relationship because each was driving the other crazy. This chance meeting might be an opportunity to rekindle the flame for these two who, now older, realize what they’ve lost.
Dabbon and Stevens struggle in the beginning with conflicting tones; the TV show seems to be a spoof and there’s plenty of typical musical comedy silliness going around. But then it suddenly goes several shades darker as the characters express their deepest desires and saddest fears. Fortunately, about halfway through they hit their stride; the disjointed quality vanishes and the rest of the ride is smooth.
Dabbon’s original music is very audience-friendly and catchy, Stevens’ lyrics are often times very funny, and witty without being intrusive.
Christine Laitta brings a rock-ribbed respectability to Grace which moves the character seamlessly from the ditzy character at the beginning to the darker moments of need and fear later on.
Connor McCanlus and Josey Miller are Felix and Grace; they’re written, especially in the early part of the show, as characters with plenty of off-beat ticks and mannerisms and both McCanlus and Miller know precisely where the laughs are.
I’m very happy to report that Buchheit, Laitta, McCanlus, Miller and Shavers are terrific singers and with the help of the “band” Robert Neumeyer and Jay Weaver Game On is a tuneful evening and an encouraging example of what CLO’s SPARK can do.