Review: Dreamcatcher Premieres New Musical in their New Neighborhood
There was Molly Goldberg’s neighborhood (actually a New York apartment house where everyone visited by leaning outside the windows to converse). There was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (you may still be able to visit on reruns). And there was (and still is) the neighborhood of Sesame Street.
Now, we have The Neighborhood, an original musical written by the folks at Dreamcatcher Rep and performed with great élan at their new digs in Summit. It is a delight to visit and meet the denizens who populate this fictional place!
These eight actors have performed together for so long that their relationships are totally convincing, whether they be family, lovers, friends or, in this case “a bunch of strangers who happen to live” near each other—in other words, neighbors! Using stories of Dreamcatcher’s resident acting company to create a show of vignettes, monologues and songs, artistic director Laura Ekstrand has penned a book and lyrics set to music by Joseph Zawila that was so easily recognizable that, as the actors sang and performed their interactions with each other, the audience nodded its collective head in agreement.
Lauren Moran Mills (who often directs at the Women’s Theater Company) makes her directorial debut at Dreamcatcher Rep to great success with a flair that allows one number to segue smoothly into another and showcases each performer very well.
We’ve all met these people in neighborhoods we’ve lived in. There are the newcomers from the city looking for a better life (and better schools) for their children. You know, the young man (Dave Maulbeck) who can’t wait to join the PTA or coach something—anything—even though he doesn’t even play a sport! There is the aspiring actor (Jason Szamreta) who commutes by train to auditions, trying to study lines while fielding inane comments by a fellow from his neighborhood.
There are the new parents, one (Maulbeck) laid back and enamored by his offspring’s beauty, the other (Ekstrand) hilariously working hard to prepare her infant for college admission. Would-be homeowner Jessica O’Hara-Baker, looking for the “perfect house,” lists the odd features of houses she’s looked at, like carpet in the bathroom and rooms the size of closets. Harry Patrick Christian extols the joys of being single (“Just One”) in the suburbs while Noreen Farley, a “relic” in a neighborhood of young families, searches for a gray-haired gentleman for companionship. And of course, there’s the dog whose annoying bark early every Sunday morning wakes up a neighbor (O’Hara-Baker) and drives her to distraction and stern measures.
There are many more situations in this two-hour show that will strike a familiar chord. Scott McGowan and Harriett Trangucci drolly portray Lawrence and Sandi, a couple who fight and love, both very loudly! Their thick New Yawk accents mark them as city émigrés. Farley and Christian are a stitch as a snooty couple who invite their neighbors over for a PowerPoint of their trip to Tuscany. And everyone will recognize the contest that goes on each Christmas to see who will have the largest and most elaborate holiday decorations.
The intimate space at the Oakes Center and Zawila’s piano accompaniment are perfect for this little musical. Though not necessarily known for their singing, the actors do a fine job and certainly act the clever lyrics so convincingly that we forget they are performing. Musical director Jack Bender is to be commended for guiding the actors through the appealing music. Wesley Krantz’s set features silhouettes of houses that suggest a neighborhood without being too fussy. Lighting (Zach Pizza), sound (Jeff Knapp) and costumes (Laura Ekstrand) unobtrusively add to the easily identifiable ambiance.
The finale certainly sums up just what “that weird thing-a-ma-bob” called neighbor really is. Facing a catastrophe in the middle of the night, the neighbors gather in the street where the line between “a stranger and a friend” blurs to become a fellowship, a community. To paraphrase the lyrics, “our old neighborhood may not be like the one in our memories, when we look back on our neighborhoods, this is the one we see.” I certainly recognized mine; you will too—and it will delight you!
The cast of The Neighborhood sing ‘Christmastime’
By Ruth Ross for the News-Record | September 29, 2012
Laura Ekstrand sings ‘PTA’ backed up by Harriett Trangucci & Harry Patrick Christian.
“Noreen Farley and Harry Patrick Christian are a stitch as a snooty couple.”
Read the Reviews
“Artistic director Laura Ekstrand has penned a book and lyrics set to music by Joseph Zawila that was so easily recognizable that the audience nodded its collective head in agreement.”
Ruth Ross, News-Record