Thursday, February 25, 2010

Signs of Life

Posted by Mondschein

"Signs of Life" presented by Amas Musical Theatre at The Marjorie S. Dean Little Theater, February 21, 2010

(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The horrors of the Holocaust are again fodder for a new musical that explores the lives of the Jews sent to Terezin.  Composer Joel Derfer sums it up as:

Signs of Life is the story of a young girl who comes of age in the Czech ghetto Terezin, rechristened Theresienstadt by the Nazis, who filled it with Jewish artists, musicians, and intellectuals and turned it into a propaganda tool. Once she and her friends and family realize what lies in store for them, they begin to discover that some truths might be worth dying for.

As a freshman effort, Mr. Derfner shows promise with his score.  His is a more heavily sung-through approach to story-telling, first explored with composers like Richard Rodgers, and more recently with Boublil & Schoenburg, and Adam Guettel.  He hasn't mastered their finesse, but is on his way to finding his own musical voice.

The story told is compelling, of 19 year old Lorelei (Patricia Noonan) studying art and discovering boys, whose life is tragically interrupted and forever changed by the Germans.  Peter Ullian's book is functional, but does have a few burps here and there.  One is when Lorelei, who has obviously met her love interest, Simon (Wilson Bridges), instead trades a dumpling to the pan-sexual cabaret star, Kurt (Jason Collins), for her first kiss.

Ms. Noonan makes a noble effort to carry the weight of the proceedings.  She gets nice support from Mr. Collins, less from Mr. Bridges. Erika Amato as Berta Pluhar, a former Jew abandoned by her Christian husband sings well, but falls victim to poor direction and comes across as overplayed.  Allen E. Read's Officer Heindel provides a short-lived glimpse of humanity behind the torture of the Nazis.

Director Jeremy Dobrish has staged the show for a much bigger house than one as intimately sized as the Deane Little Theater.  From a clunky series of silhouette images at the opening (which looked more like lighting mistakes) to oversized emoting that might work in an 1500 seat Broadway house.  He would have done better to rely on the strength of the score and the story instead of inflating the staging beyond the scope of the hall.

Alexis Distler's sets of stacked suitcases effectively provides the reminder of all the bags that were packed by the doomed to be hauled off to their deaths.  Jennifer Caprio's costumes function well, as do Michael Gottlieb's lights.

The show runs through March 21.

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