[Review] Curtains! @Rock Bridge High School

Other than the notorious and dreaded second weekend in December, this might be the busiest weekend for performances here in my hometown. Two of the three local high schools have their musicals, the opera company at a local university has their fall scenes program, and my kiddos have their studio recital, among other things. I’m riding the Pick-n-Choose Struggle Bus, and finally settled on a weekend schedule that wouldn’t leave me maimed and ruined for concert-going.

Up first on the docket was Rock Bridge High School’s production of Curtains, directed by Mike Pierson and Tammy Walker, a dynamic duo with a long history of collaborative work.

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By the end of the show, this is what my program looked like:

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That’s a lot of writing. I couldn’t help it. I was the strange audience bird attempting to “feel-write” words in my program without the aid of a cell phone light in an attempt to not be that person (which made for some interesting scholarly deciphering early this morning). The thoughts kept coming at me like a hostile alien attack, though the comments were far from negative.

I loved that the pit had their own mini-processional at the start of the show. I can’t remember a time when I’ve actually seen that done locally, but their parade set an exciting, anticipatory tone, indirectly silencing the masses and drawing attention to the lost art of the overture. Otherwise, I may not have heard the fantastic keyboard stylings of a sir Anthony Hernandez, whose run this weekend completes his eighty-bajillionth musical accompanying gig this year (maybe his 9th or 10th? either way…). Way to carve your niche, kind sir. You are in demand and that’s how DIY musicianship is done.

In terms of productions, this musical is no easy feat. I didn’t count the set or costume changes, but there were a lot. Here is what I wrote about that:

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Yes, even I write in internet-speak (to myself). But there really were a lot of sets. Many of which may have only been used for ten minutes, max, like the set for “He Did It,” which was oddly reminiscent of “The Telephone Hour” from Bye-Bye-Birdie. I had to laugh at the absurdity of seeing a giant boat and 6+ mermaid costumes during the complete “In the Same Boat” at the end. Way to accept that challenge and not cut that out of the show, which I imagine is done a lot for logistical reasons (as in, who has a giant boat lying around? Not many…).

There’s also something to be said for the overall musical choice, which offered a variety of speaking, singing, and small-group opportunities for students to shine, not to mention a considerable amount of stage time for the chorus. I wish my directors had made selections like this when I was in high school. Be grateful, students! Seriously. Having spent my three high school musicals in the chorus for Singin’ in the Rain, Finian’s Rainbow, and The Wizard of Oz (all of which are strangely male-centric, cast-wise), that will be my only lecture-y comment.

This musical is classy and somewhat adult, and so is not easy to pull off with a younger cast, but everyone passed with flying colors. Most notable were the vocal stylings of Madi Mertz, who played Carmen Bernstein. Mertz’s sound is mature beyond her years (without being contrived or forced), and this was most apparent in “It’s a Business.” I spent half the song in awe of her well-formed vocal technique, and the other half sympathizing with the ridiculously low range (what are those, F’s? E’s?)  I’m not sure any other high school singer could pull that off the way Mertz did. You’re going places, little lady.

It wouldn’t be a COMO musical without a high-kick from Leslie Walker, who played Georgia Hendricks, and who moves across the stage with the grace of a well-trained dancer. I frequently found my eye drawn to Walker because of how at ease she appeared throughout the show, even when she was standing still (a deceptively difficult thing to do as a performer). That type of bodily comfort does not come naturally to many, and I saw a similar ease in Brice Lafond (who played Frank Cioffi) and Andrea Walker, who portrayed the adorable Bambi Bernet.

I enjoyed the remarkable pairing of Niki (Evann Twichell) and Lafond, whose chemistry was so unmistakably Fred and Ginger that I found myself smiling nonstop during “A Tough Act to Follow,” which, with its classic choreography and costumes, really was a tough act to follow. Beautiful work by all, especially costumes and hair, which were detailed to a “T” by the stylish Victoria Mongillo. Your work does not go unappreciated. Neither does the creative lighting, I might point out. Real clouds! Not questionable clouds. Good work.

I have to say that the unexpected highlight of my evening was hearing Sean Garfias sing “I Miss the Music.” What a perfect casting decision. Garfias’s beautiful tenor quality was so undeniably fitting for this piece, that I found myself sitting forward in my seat and nodding along at every clean vowel, cutoff, and articulation, as if to telepathically reach Pierson from within the audience to agree vehemently. This piece was heartbreakingly bittersweet, and the stranger next to me actually gave a standing ovation after the song. I couldn’t disagree with her sentiment.

Finally, I can’t wrap up without commenting on the witty elocution of Cole Walker, whose comedic timing truly served as a sort of theatrical glue, cohering the scenes into a smooth, hilarious work of art. That role, the part of Christopher Belling, really couldn’t have been better, especially if Cole had stood any taller than he does in his current frame. 🙂

I have more indecipherable scrawlings, but 1000 words is my limit. To everyone in the cast, crew and pit: I do try to name everyone by name in these sorts of things, but the complexity of the forces involved are limiting me in this case (and that’s awesome). I do this sort of thing because it’s important to build up other musicians, actors, and artists, and to point out that a production really is the sum of its collective parts. Without every single one of you, the show would not have been possible, and the individual time and talents that each of you contributed to this work do not go unnoticed. Really, after all is said and done, you are all, in fact, show people.

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