By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
I want to open this review of Double Threat Trio with a salute to the SPARK program of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. This is an initiative to identify and develop new musicals for future generations. That may sound a little grandiose but what it means basically is that they’re investing in showcases and productions of “small” musicals: casts you can number on one hand, a band instead of an orchestra, scaled down sets and costumes et. al.
While I bow to no one in my love of a sprawling theatrical behemoth featuring a chorus of 32 all in matching shoes tapping their way across a set the size of Rhode Island, the economics of such spectacles are becoming increasingly prohibitive. Also, how relevant can such theatrical colossi be in a stripped-down world where entertainment comes delivered on a phone? So CLO’s SPARK is working to get out ahead of that curve and I’ve been able to catch several SPARK shows … and while maybe nothing’s been an out-of-the-park home run yet it’s certainly an enormously promising venture.
The Double Threat Trio continues through April 28. CLO Cabaret, Downtown. 412/456-6666. www.CLOCabaret.com
Double Threat Trio is a case in a point. This is a fast and funny four-person show with book, music and lyrics by Adam Overett. (And, as an added plus, it is not – as most musicals are these days – based on a movie!)
In the musical theater world there’s a particular type of performer we call a “triple threat;” someone who can dance, sing and act. Overett brings us three people who are only “double threats:” Nina can sing but not act, Jamison can act but can’t dance and Kenny can dance but not sing. They meet for the first time at an audition (where none of them get cast) and in despair hit on the idea that with material highlighting their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses maybe they’d finally make their mark.
The search for such a vehicle leads them to Millicent – a once-big director/writer/choreographer/producer/designer – who has the idea of a musical version of Oedipus Rex she is calling Oed!
The bulk of Double Threat Trio is the rehearsal and opening night of Oed! And, since this is musical comedy, it all goes wrong. But hilariously so.
Overett is an extremely clever writer and much of Double Threat is a well-planned and tightly written four-person one-act musical. The show is a swift one and Overett wastes almost no time in getting to the point in each scene, extracting whatever mirth and music exists there.
Director Scott Weinstein keeps this CLO Cabaret production moving with the same speed as the text and knows precisely how to highlight the individual skills and styles of his cast.
Overett’s created four roles with big potential for the right performers … and this production certainly has them. Drew Leigh Williams is blessed with a once-in-a-generation voice which she unfurls to fabulous effect as Nina. J. Alex Noble brings to the actor-who-can’t-dance a blend of hamminess and galloping self-doubt which has the audience rooting for him throughout. And Jerreme Rodriguez is the non-singing dancer and plays the role with such an aching need for acceptance that immediately we are, and remain, on his side.
In a star turn, Michelle Duffy gives a powerhouse performance with the tricky role of Millicent. The character is introduced with the song “I Wear Many Hats” and, indeed, drags around with her a hat tree with hats for her various duties; director, writer, choreographer, producer etc. It’s Overett’s design that each of these is a separate person with a different personality and dialect living inside Millicent’s head. Duffy is extraordinary handling these lightning quick changes with such precision and purpose.
But I wonder if maybe the concept needs more work. It’s funny, at first, but feels increasingly stagey. I mean, she’s dragging a piece of furniture around with her in every scene – and the character’s so hugely drawn she becomes nonsensical. I’d suggest losing the hats, blurring the transitions between personalities and then letting a performer as skilled as Duffy pull it all together.
On the subject of rewrites (not that anybody asked me) Overett’s obvious love of the outrageous spins out of control toward the end and what happens during the performance of Oed! feels so untethered to reality it’s not as comedically effective as it could be. I really missed the smarts and economy Overett had been displaying up until then.
But, and this is important, Double Threat Trio is remains a very entertaining evening and a credit to the SPARK program.