Under the assured, skillful touch of Director Matthew Gardiner, Signature Theatre has delivered a smart, engaging, delightfully personal-sized production of Soon, a new musical by Nick Blaemire (Glory Days). Blaemire wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Soon.
Gardiner has given Soon a genuine, spontaneous feel to it. He has guided the cast and design team to a caring, winningly singular approach to the production. It could have easily become a formulaic, clichéd dramatic-comedy or a strung-together series of short scenes about the lives of Millennials trying to cope with the world left to them by oldsters. Gardiner also masterminds one of the most hilarious, almost improvisational in nature, live scenes that I have seen in quite a while.
With Darius Smith’s spirited musical direction of an unseen “house” band of keyboard, two guitars and bass, Blaemire’s contemporary pop/rock musical numbers are like a radio that is always on one particular station defining an atmosphere and a mood. With orchestration and arrangements by Charlie Rosen, the 11 musical numbers gives evocative energy and voice for the show’s focus on youthful denizens living in a stressful world, not of their making.
Soon’s small ensemble of characters are centered on twenty-something Charlie (Jessica Hershberg with a well done “dazed and confused” approach) who is hiding away in her downtown Manhattan apartment. She refuses to leave the small confines of her cluttered, safety. We are given the impression that the world is going end since that is what television news broadcaster Wolf Blitzer regularly tells Charlie and the audience. With the world on the verge of extinction Hershberg as Charlie, is frozen-up inside. She is unable to contemplate love and let alone long-term coupling with someone. She is a young woman; unmovable from her small apartment, living a life of fear. She is nearly always fretful about “who will remember me.”
Charlie is joined by her Gay “boyfriend/girlfriend” room-mate (an on-the-button Joshua Morgan, whether in a priceless drunken stupor, or when showing a deep pool of caring), her self-absorbed, suburban mother with a nasty secret (Natascia Diaz playing a woman who once thought herself utterly cool and now with eyes that magnificently deaden when confronted) and a patient, waiting boyfriend who Charlie had met “cute” and who wants to be an “us” with her (an appealingly sincere Alex Brightman with a smooth charm about him in his persuasive skills). Who can Charlie believe in while everyone sings “Believe Me”?
Over the course of the 90-minute, intermission-free musical, we come to wonder what is real and what might be hallucinations brought on by Charlie’s complicated personal life and her demons. We willingly join Charlie on her “love me or leave me, who will blink-first” journey to see what risks she might take by opening her apartment door and stepping outside.
The production moves back-and-forth, in a shifting time of scenes that might be reality or Charlie’s hallucinations. There is rarely quiet during the production even when Charlie is “alone” in her apartment singing about “Peanut Butter.” Often enough, looking audience left, people appear, ready to enter her apartment, waiting for just the right time to knock, or speak through the door, or find keys to enter. Is the door just a door or is it the door into Charlie’s mind? As one song title goes “How Do You Know?”
Dan Conway’s set design is a wonderful wonder; a cluttered, real-looking place with plenty of the detailed detritus of life. There is a bathroom, messy kitchen area with working appliances, a well-used couch and a door that we the audience can decide is either a real door, or a door into Charlie’s mind. There is a bank of windows at the rear of the set that show-off what is happening weather-wise in the outside world thanks to a vibrant lighting design from Brian Tovar and head-spinning projections from Matthew Haber.
As for Charlie’s attachment to a Jewish fish named Herschel, not sure what that adds to the overall production, though it does become an excuse to have a cute musical number called “Bar Mitzvah for the First Jewish Fish”. Yes, I may have personally enjoyed the satiric “Jewish” fish Bar-Mitzvah scene for its exuberance and panache, but will others outside the confines of certain big cities and perhaps university campuses?
Soon should strike a chord for a new generation of musical theater goers seeking-out up-to-date outlooks on live stages: perhaps smaller in scope, more intimate, and much more personal with an off-center quirkiness to them. Soon is sweetly dark, sometimes absolutely hilarious, witty and intelligent with a pop score that draws one into the characters and the arc of the show.
The heartfelt mantra of Charlie comes in this “prove it, move it” and “you deserve what you receive.” Without giving away the end, Charlie’s life as we see it on Signature’s Ark stage is one to be shared. It may also be the direction of musical theater as a new generation seeks to make its mark of what living right now for them is. Soon does move and it does prove. It is safe to open your door and step into what Soon delivers.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.