Review: ‘Memories & Legends’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company

Director William Leary returns to Greenbelt Arts Center (GAC) with Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s world premiere of Writer/Composer Stephen Geddes’ inspirational new musical, Memories & Legends.

Memories & Legends (M&L) tells the story of aging rocker Oran Tobin, who returns home to Newfoundland to attend his father’s funeral. He’s doing so begrudgingly, after receiving an ultimatum from his girlfriend to get over his emotional baggage or get out. Once there he’s “held hostage” by a group of locals who help him rediscover his roots by developing a new connection to his father through music. The concept is one of transformation, forgiveness, and redemption. At times it’s a very thought-provoking production with some wonderful moments from the cast, but, unfortunately, it’s not always consistent.

The cast of 'Memories & Legends.' Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.
The cast of ‘Memories & Legends.’ Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.

M&L features a fairly large group of actors for the space inside GAC: stars Christopher Overly, Paul Davis, and Leah Livengood are joined by supporting performances from Lauren Patton, Susan L. Smithers, Linda Whiting, Helenmary Ball, Stanley Livengood (who also serves as musical director), Heather Olsen, Vashti Gray-Sadjedi, Daniel Douek, Michael Reeher, Amy C. Kraft, Pierre Burgess, Terry Downs, and Jamie Brill.

With such a large cast, Director William Leary does a great job maneuvering so many personalities on stage. At times some of the cast members do struggle a bit, but when this cast is on point and full of energy they’re incredible – and that’s especially on display during the spirited musical numbers, thanks in large part to the direction provided by Stanley Livengood. Act I standouts include “Across the Water” featuring Paul M. Davis and Linda Whiting and “Claire” featuring Daniel Douek and Leah Livengood. The rousing Act II cast-numbers “All the Way Home” and “Memories & Legends” really gets the floor thumping.

The technical direction by Stephen Beitzell and costume designs by Dannielle Beitzell and Eileen Murray Kraft were very well done. Leary’s double-duty as set designer is on-point, with a whimsical attention to detail. The Beitzell’s are a team that frequently works with Wolf Pack and they’re a huge asset to any production they lend their incredible talents to. Kraft recently received critical acclaim for her costume designs in Wolf Pack’s Love, Sex, and the IRS and she returns to successfully lend her expert-eye to this play.

Christopher Overly (Oran Tobin) and Helenmary Ball (Elanor). in 'Memories & Legends.' Photo courtesy of Wolf Pack Theatre Company.
Christopher Overly (Oran Tobin) and Helenmary Ball (Elanor). in ‘Memories & Legends.’ Photo courtesy of Wolf Pack Theatre Company.

Christopher Overly, who was recently nominated for a WATCH Award for his role in Kensington Arts Theatre’s 2015 production of Chess, is fantastic as Oran Tobin. He is able to perfectly fluctuate between the two sides of his character: angry son and burgeoning man. His chemistry with the rest of the cast is brilliant and he gives each one their time to shine in their own right, something I consider an important trait in a leading actor.

Leah Livengood delivers a great performance as Peggy Rawlins. Her connection to her character is clear and her vocals and characterization are really strong, and she adds a lot to the overall heart of the show.

Paul M. Davis shines yet again, this time as Pete White. It’s been an incredible year for Davis after his critically acclaimed performance as Ryan in Wolf Pack’s production of kinK earned him a Take a Bow nod. He returns to GAC after delivering a standout performance in the Rude Mechanical’s production of Henry V earlier this month. As Pete, Davis is able to embody the “parental spirit” of Oran’s deceased father. He pushes Oran down his path towards self-realization, whether through an impassioned speech or a rousing song.

Together, Davis and Linda Whiting have some of the best musical-moments of the night, and it’s during the musical numbers that this musical is the strongest. Some of the dialogue between songs can get lost, making specific motivations hard to follow beyond the overall theme of reconciling ourselves with our past. There are several moments throughout that don’t necessarily feel like they’re needed, notably the spoken-word/screamed poem, “Maddy’s Missing,” which might work better if it were pulled back slightly, but as it is feels off-putting while sitting out in the audience.

It’s in stark contrast to the other spoken-word moment during the second act, “Oh, Sea,” which is the strongest, most powerful moment of the entire production. It’s a mystery why Helenmary Ball isn’t featured during Act I but she appears like a lightning bolt after the intermission and delivers one of the most stirring, chillingly beautiful stage-moments I’ve seen in a long time.

The cast of 'Memories & Legends.' Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.
The cast of ‘Memories & Legends.’ Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda.

Helenmary Ball’s performance is just one of many that string this production together into something very enjoyable. The supporting cast, led by Linda Whiting, Daniel Douek and Susan L. Smithers  and featuring standout performances by Jamie Brill, Amy C. Kraft, Michael Reeher,  and Lauren Patton.  Their energy during musical numbers is palpable, but the writing that bridges those moments together can occasionally lag. The cast as a whole noticeably picks up during the second act, thanks in large part to Ball’s stirring introduction.

It will be interesting to see what the creative team has learned from this production. With some changes and improvements, Memories & Legends can be exceptional. The cast has some real vocal-chops and the story is inspirational and relatable: we all face this same dilemma throughout our lives, weighing who we were and who we want to be. Writer/Composer Stephen Geddes does a fantastic job capturing the spirit of that struggle

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Memories & Legends plays through October 9, 2016 at Wolfpack Theatre Company performing at Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

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