The Knighthood Players’ Production of The Knights of Salisbury, by Tim Caron, directed by Tim Caron and Ilyana Rose-Davila, with music direction by Jason Schoenfeld, is a nostalgic, though awkward and anachronistic coming-of-age musical that looks back to the formation of a band on the Massachusetts North Shore during the summer of 1966. What this authentic musical has going for it are some bluesy/jazzy/rock and roll instrumentals and the ardent, expressive performers. But its detractors equal the positives: the sound system was so poor, I could barely make out the lyrics and dialogue, and what I could hear told a disjointed and unconvincing story.
The musical’s authenticity is reflected in the convincing costumes and accents and the lively musical scores. Costume and wardrobe designers Robin Worthington and Alex Geoghagan summoned the ‘60s with the actors’ garb: Converse and Keds sneakers, sheath dresses, and rolled short sleeves and pants. Boston accents affected by actors Robert Blizard as Ben Flaherty and William “Bill” Colligan as Bargoer #1/Bill Johnson were amusing, sounded like the real deal and were a great way to denote the generational divide between the teenagers and their parents. Ben’s acerbic question to his son Jake (Pete Peterson) about whether chores are “cutting into yoah wehk houahs”, is a perfect emblem of their fraught relationship.
Virtually all of the music was original work by Tim Caron and several of the pieces were dynamic and inspiring. Although I couldn’t make out the lyrics, I was moved by the repetitious crescendos in the musical melody of Mike Johnson’s (Nick Adjami) solo just after his father Bill urges him to hurry up and fill out a college application.
Despite the lyrical obscurity, the actors’ facial expressions and gestures gave context to and allowed me to feel the emotions of many scenes. For example, during the opening, Mohamed Hafez as Vincent Cartier and Nadine Foty as Selma Cartier artfully depicted frustrated, anxious people by having strained expressions on their faces, turning their backs on each other and pacing.
Aside from the sound issues, disjointed scenes make it difficult to derive the production’s main theme of gratitude for mentorship. While the finale is moving, with the entire cast on stage singing a tribute to the Cartiers who help the teenagers set up and manage their band, most of the preceding scenes were devoted to showing the difficulties of transitioning from high school to adulthood: dating, overcoming shyness and stage fright, difficulties with abusive and unsupportive parents, and the generational divide. There were ostensibly no scenes dedicated to the tension that might have been felt by the Cartiers (the adult mentors) about the mentorship, or how important the mentorship was to the teenagers. Scenes focused on the mentorship might have signaled this as the prominent theme of the piece. Along with solving the sound issues, tightening up the dramatic focus is essential.
However, if you like new musical numbers with a live band and want to take a stroll along the North Shore of Massachusetts in the 1960s, The Knights of Salisbury might be for you.
Running Time: Two hours (although website says 100 minutes), no intermission.