No Hard Feelings
By Tom Wachunas
At one point during “BOING!!”, a new musical that premiered at the Kathleen Howland Theatre on April 20, Jimmy and Dolly, two guardian angels whose earthly mission is to reconcile troubled marriages, swap stories about random acts of kindness they have performed. Dolly recounts how she once appeared before a dishonest house painter (who cheated a client by using watered-down paint) in the middle of the night and, mustering her spookiest admonishing voice, intoned, “RePAINT, rePAAAINT!” It’s one of several real groaners that punctuate this well-meaning but shallow romantic comedy, written by Stark County residents Bob and Jane Vignos (husband and wife), and directed by Carla Derr.
For the authors of the production, this first- time foray into writing musical theatre was clearly a labor of love in their retirement years – a fulfilled dream. Alas, I wish I could tell you it was a fulfilling theatrical experience from where I was sitting. I keep hearing “ReWRITE, reWRIIITE!”
The story line is one of several shortcomings. While the premise is certainly not original (stories of angels sent to fix our screw-ups are as old as…well, angels), it is nonetheless potentially rich territory for bringing us credible characters of genuine substance. Here, though, it’s largely an unrealized potential. The writing (both as story and music) is simply too one-dimensional. The marriage of characters Tom and Mary is on the rocks due largely to Tom’s incessant gambling. But the real emotional heft of the problem and its consequences for both is treated in a maddeningly perfunctory manner, yielding just a few saccharine songs about longing for better days. Character development is similarly without depth in the second act when niece Anne meets Hugh (due to an angelic manipulation) and they fall head-over-heels in love (the ‘boing’ moment) within about a minute or so, yielding still a few more songs that have all the cloying sweetness of a Hallmark card. Jerome Kern this is not.
There are, to be sure, moments of endearing silliness, provided for the most part by Don Milbrodt as angel Jimmy, and Connie Crabtree as his cohort, Dolly. Crabtree in particular turns in an uncanny reading of her character – a delightful hybrid of quirky gestures and speech mannerisms reminiscent of Jessica Tandy and Ruth Gordon.
Easily the most perplexing surprise of the night is the singing by cast in general. Jay Spencer as Tom, and Jodi Wilson as Mary, do manage to deliver their tunes with a pleasing enough degree of melodic accuracy, and similarly Kerry Bush in her role of Marie, a pleasure cruise entertainer. But regrettably, no amount of nervous or cheery mugging to the audience (and there’s a lot of that) can disguise the sometimes embarrassing lack of singing skills on the part of the rest of the cast.
Amid all the smiley-faced, let’s-put-on-a-show camaraderie among the performers, there were passages when I thought this might be a satire or a send-up of, say, old-timey movie musicals, family or class reunion skits, or karaoke night at the local pub. In fact, with some serious re-structuring, adding harmony parts to the songs, and the right performers, maybe parody is a possible direction for this show. But somehow I think that’s not what the writers had in mind.
It saddens me to say that, given the script in its current condition, the proceedings on stage don’t have too much staying power. Call it a valiant but flawed attempt at a howling good time.
“BOING!!” at the Kathleen Howland Theatre, located in Second April Galerie, 324 Cleveland Ave. NW. Tickets $10 – shows April 27 at 7p.m., and April 28 at 2 p.m. (330) 451 – 0924 www.secondapril.org