Book and Lyrics by Dante Russo
Music by David F.M. Vaughn
Directed by Teresa K. Pond
Vital Theatre Company (http://www.vitaltheatre.org)
McGinn-Cazale Theater, 2162 Broadway at
Sep. 15-Oct. 21 (Sat & Sun @ & )
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut
Extraordinary combines a world of signs with a world of sounds while traveling to hyperkinetic Lester’s (Harrison M. Ford) imaginary land to find cousin Hope’s (Kristin McCarson) hearing. This production is an encore for Vital Children’s Theatre, and, given the exceptional subject, it was easy to see why the company has reprised the play. In fact, Extraordinary contained not one but two deaf female characters, the other of whom was the Queen (Grace Sumner) in Lester’s imaginary kingdom. Playwright Dante Russo, a repeat collaborator with Vital, who offered Radiant Ruby during 2005, delivered a textured exploration of signs and signing matched by a complex, engaging musical score by David F. M. Vaughn, which received an Outstanding Music and Lyrics award from the New York International Fringe Festival in 1005. The play’s message was clear: “What makes you different makes you extraordinary”— how delightful that the differences were, in fact, reconciled in time for dinner in Lester’s real home.
Lester’s bouncy imagination kept the audience attentive. Surprising rules increased the stakes in unexpected ways: Who would have thought an imaginary friend could not make a wish? Parents may want to take note that some of the bursts of sound and music, true to Lester’s twists and turns, seemed a bit overwhelming for the youngest (below age 4), and the upper age recommendation of 12 might be optimistic for some older children. For the 4-9 year olds, this play seemed right on target. There was even a little something for the parents, with the mother’s love of the Beatles inspiring the topography of “imaginary land,” where eventually a certain Lucy did appear.
Strongest performances were offered by Fred, the most believable imaginary friend (Alan Houser), Mother (Grace Sumner), who also played Lucy and the Queen, contributing both a powerful voice and signing skills to the project, and, as both the Girl with Legs of Stone and Dustmite Janet, Heather Lynne Milner contributed another strong voice to the ensemble. The challenged cousin, Hope, was played with sweetness by Kristi McCarson, who made a point of connecting with the audience. The delicious bravura performance of the afternoon came from Peter Chocolate Cowboy (Michael Maricondi) who doubled as Dustmite Carl in the jive duet with Janet. Funky costume design (Hunter Kaczorowski) contributed, er, vital-ly to bringing that buggy number to life.
In the end, Lester had to bid goodbye to his naiveté about differences and to learn that an imaginary friend cannot stand in for understanding, but happily the living room transformed to the land of laughter in time to provide a grand finale. Excellent choreography (Derek Roland) and direction (Teresa K. Pond) on a simple and creatively functional psychedelic set (Elisha Schaefer) of panels and a modular couch were dramatically lit (Jason Teague) to heighten the action. At the conclusion, the audience scrambled in fine paparazzi fashion for the autographs so willingly given by the cast of Extraordinary.
Copyright 2007 by Deborah S Greenhut
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