Signature Theatre somehow finds a way to keep outdoing itself. This year, they launched their brand new “Siglab” – a program “to provide writers of new musicals a chance to see their work in a workshop form in front of an audience before it receives a full production.” This summer the theatre in Shirlington is sizzling with the new musical Spin, based on the 2008 South Korean film, Speedy Scandal.
Spin centers around a former teen idol, Evan Peterson, played superbly by Signature vet, James Gardner, who once had it all and is now relegated to hosting a second-rate morning talent show. One of his repeat call-in voters, Makalo tells Evan that she is going to meet her father, who doesn’t know she exists, and further more, that she has a young son. That night as Evan is about to “entertain” a young fan, Makalo, with young son in tow, shows up at Evan’s apartment to announce that she is his long lost daughter.
The basic premise for the show is something that we have seen countless times on television sitcoms, but it works here. The show is not so much about the comedic interactions between playboy Evan and insecure Makalo, but about finding yourself. It is a story about someone on top who fell, and is struggling to return. But in his quest for his return to fame, Evan finds out more about himself than he realized.
While Evan, and Gardner’s impeccable performance are the central plot of the show, the true star of the show is the always impressive Carolyn Cole. Cole is good at playing larger-than-life characters (she won a Helen Hayes Award for performance as Tracy Turnblad in Signature’s Hairspray as an example), but here, she plays the insecure Makalo with a quiet understatement that shows just what a versatile actress Ms. Cole is. Sure, she has her “signature” belting moments, but the subtlety she brought to the role was far more luxurious and interesting.
As for the piece itself, Composer and Lyricist Neil Bartram (Broadway’s The Story Of My Life) creates an evening of memorable and hummable tunes. His wide arrangement of songs from Evan’s boy band inspired, “I Have A Gift” to the traditional musical theatre obligatory tap number, “Everybody Loves A Scandal”, Bartram writes with finesse. The best songs in the show are the diegetic ones. Each of these songs perfectly comments on the action of the scene and helps to further the plot.
In a virtual age riddled with tabloid stories of Paula Deen, Tom Cruise, and Mel Gibson (all who make “cameos” in this production), Director Eric Schaeffer makes perfect use of multimedia and the projection designs by Rocco Disanti are a character in themselves. Schaeffer makes great use of the Company set and as usual, brings out the best in his actors. Schaeffer has a way of storytelling that should be a primer for directors. In addition, Music Director Gabriel Mangiante’s rocking band and crisp vocal harmonies are top-notch.
The one aspect of the show that did not work for me was the character of tabloid journalist, Richard Riddle, played by Bobby Smith. Smith is one of the area’s finest and most dependable actors, and we were fortunate to have him in this role, because he made the part bearable, but I think antagonist Riddle, as a character, needs the most work and could use a bit of rewrite by book writer Brian Hill. His second act opening song, “Everybody Loves A Scandal,” performed beautifully by Smith and choreographed perfectly by Matthew Gardiner, just felt out of place in the rest of the story. But that is the beauty of a workshop production: seeing something that is growing, evolving organically, and ever changing.
The rest of the ensemble cast played a variety of roles and a standout among them was Maria Rizzo as the reality show wannabe, Brianna. Rizzo does an amazing job of portraying a terrible singer without crossing the line into a caricature. Overall, Spin is a series of highlights in a new musical that you have not heard the last of.
Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes minutes with one intermission.
Spin plays through July 27, 2013 at Signature Theatre in the Max – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 703-820-9771, or purchase them online.