“Song-Poems Wanted! The Musical” made its Las Vegas debut last week at the Onyx Theatre.
On the surface, the book by Larry Carpenter, original lyrics by Carpenter and Helen Bates, and music by Arthur Kaufman, are a trifle with the standard love story written in for conflict.
Most of the roles are contrived, quirky caricatures, but a couple of surprise twists make it a fun, entertaining evening.
Additional music by Ramsey Kearney and lyrics by a cavalcade of folks constitute the crux of the overall plot. What is a song-poem? The term refers to lyrics that have been set to music for a fee. A business mechanism around since the early 1900s, it has become something of a cult community.
The Onyx is a small venue; the strength of voices is such that microphones shouldn’t be needed and, for the most part, aren’t used. The one time they are needed, during a rousing spiritual number, the vocals get drowned out. Unfortunately, at times, they pop on mid-song.
You need multi-faceted talent to pull off a musical of this type, and director Troy Heard has assembled a versatile cast.
Rik Wade plays Sharkey, the aptly named producer/owner of Star Records, with perfect smarm.
He belts out songs in a beautiful baritone voice but lacks definition and focus with constant shuffling movements. His transitions are sorely lacking when he takes on the persona of a rhythm guitarist by donning a pair of tinted Paul Shaffer-like glasses. Yet when speaking to his deceased wife, he grounds himself and a soft humanity shines through.
Amanda Kraft plays the dutiful daughter, Christine, who of course, falls in love with composer Josh (Andy Vieluf), who her father hired with the stipulation that he stay away from her. The (uncredited) musical director fails Kraft, making her sing in a nasally voice most of the evening. Her chest register is clearer, more resonant and would benefit the role. But, Kraft does an admirable job in bringing depth to a stereotyped character.
Comic relief is provided by Captain Bicycle, a nunchucks-wielding nerd and song-poet, and Ross Horvitz plays him to the hilt. Even when we think we should groan, we laugh at his antics.
The surprise of the evening comes in the form of Stephen R. Sisson. As Paul, he increases his presence in a steady stream of doleful delivery and then brings down the house in a hilarious scene I refuse to divulge.