By: Paulanne Simmons
Most of the time I don’t particularly like rewrites of classic plays, even when they are clever. But Songbird, Michael Kimmel (book) and Lauren Prichard’s (music and lyrics) re-imagining of Chekov’s The Seagull as a country music drama is truly exceptional.
J.V. Mercanti directs a cast of ten headed by Kate Baldwin as Tammy Trip, a country singer who comes back home to Nashville when her career is floundering despite the efforts of her lover and music writer, Beck (Eric William Morris).
Tammy expects to be met by adoring fans eager to see the hometown girl who made good. Instead she finds her morose son Dean (Adam Cochran), an aspiring singer/songwriter who wants her to help jumpstart his career, and his girlfriend Mia (Ephie AArdema), who has her eyes on Beck while she sings Dean‘s songs.
This new love triangle joins two that are already in full swing at the little dive where all the singers gather. Missy (Kacie Sheik), the daughter of the venue’s owners, Pauline (Erin Dilly) and Samuel (Andy Taylor), is in love with Dean, but Rip (Don Guillory), a kind of handyman and technical assistant, is in love with Missy. And Pauline is in love (or at least in lust) with a local doctor (Drew McVety). If you think this sounds overly complicated, pick up a copy of The Seagull to refresh your memory.
However, Kimmel and Pritchard have made significant changes. The show is infused with country music, sung and played by the actors. The music not only keeps the play skipping along where a true Chekov play would be rambling, it also intensifies the emotional messages. As the old saying goes, when you can’t say it, sing it.
Baldwin and Sheik are the powerhouse singers here. But the supporting cast is not filled with slouches. This may be the most spirited play with music onstage in a long time. Dilly more than holds her own as the feisty Pauline. And Morris makes Beck a lot more than a pretty face and a young stud for the aging Tammy.
Who would have thought a work of Anton Chekov, a Russian playwright from the 19th century could be transformed so beautifully into a show about honky tonk Nashville?
Songbird runs through Nov. 29 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59 Street between Park and Madison, (212) 279-4200 or www.59e59.org
Photography: Jenny Anderson
Follow Us On Facebook and Twitter