Saturday, August 26, 2006

Review - Autumn Moon (Wings Theatre Company)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Judging by the audience at this evening’s performance of Autumn Moon, which is being billed as a ‘rock thriller musical,’ there seemed to be two general reactions. First, and sadly the one shared by much of the audience, was head-scratching befuddlement. But those of us of a certain age, say mid-to-late thirties, knew exactly what this show was: a sly and dead-on homage to the horror films of the 1980s (Fright Night, The Howling, American Werewolf in London, etc.).

Lycan Weir (and let’s face it, short of calling him Wolfy McWerewolf, this is the perfect name to bring the audience up to speed) is a troubled young man (normally played by David Weitzer, Lycan was played by understudy Jeremy Jonet tonight). Approaching his 25th birthday, he’s having troubling nightmares. Unable to exorcise his demons by writing down his dreams, and only temporarily calmed by his loving wife, Esmay (Mishaela Faucher), he does the only thing that anyone in his situation would do: he turns to a gypsy fortune-teller, Beta (Dana Barathy), for help.

Beta tells him of a curse placed on his family generations ago, when one of his ancestors made a pact with Minion (Jesse Easley), a lord of the underworld. On his 25th birthday, he, like his forefathers, will turn into a savage, blood-thirsty beast and will continue to do so with each full moon. But Beta offers him a way out. Using magic and his cursed blood, she can send him back in time, back to the time of the curse, where he can take the place of one of his ancestors and save his family from destruction. All he has to do is find Isis (also played by Mishaela Faucher), a young gypsy girl, save her from death at the hands of Lawrence (Scott Richard Foster), and the curse will be lifted.


But even if it is, will Lycan ever return to his own time? And are any of these people who they seem to be?

Even though Lycan’s own time is present day, and the time he travels back to is the mid-1800s, everything about the production screamed The Eighties. David Velarde’s score featured power ballads that Meatloaf would dig (Isis and Lycan’s ‘All of My Life’) and rock/new wave songs (Minion’s ‘Shout It Out’) that were just begging for Billy Idol’s sneer. Lauren Cozza’s choreography was perfectly in sync with the style of each song and the general ’80s vibe.

Costume designer Stephen Smith followed the theme by creating classic punk rock outfits for Minion and Lawrence, and some truly inspired outfits for The Pack, the supporting ensemble. The makeup and hair (the big, teased, moussed hair) was well-suited for the period, and brought to mind several fashion disasters from my own youth.

Taking it up a notch was the marvelous lighting design by Julie Seitel. Her work was delightfully over the top in the more music video-type numbers like ‘Lycan’s Dream’ and ‘Shout It Out’.
The acting and singing were generally strong, though understudy Jeremy Jonet sounded tentative in several of his numbers, especially those with Mishaela Faucher, whose strong voice occasionally overpowered his. Faucher had the most poignant song of the evening, the sweet lullabye ‘Dream Catcher’, which she delivered wonderfully. As Beta, Dana Barathy easily stole every scene she was in, not just because of her smokin’ hot costume, but because of her distinctive voice and the Eartha Kitt lilt in her delivery. Her scenes with Jesse Easley’s rough and cocky Minion featured a dangerous, yet playful, give and take between the two actors. Scott Richard Foster is to be commended for his strong falsetto which he was called upon to demonstrate again and again; he was up to the challenge each time. The Pack (William Broyles, Sara Fetgatter, Marissa Lupp, Rebecca Riker and Amber Shirley) were uniformly good as actors, singers and dancers. The women of The Pack shone in the ‘Gypsy Theme’ instrumental number, which featured some nice, athletic choreography. Broyles is worth mentioning as well for his outstanding physical work (especially as a grotesque homunculus serving Beta) which was backed up by a strong speaking and singing voice.

Director Jonathan Stuart Cerullo kept the pacing quick, the blocking interesting and generally did a very good job with the production.

The primary weakness in this show was in the book and the lyrics, also by David Velarde. The dialogue was stilted and forced, featuring some groaners that sounded like they were taken from bodice-ripper romance novels. The lyrics (which were often drowned out by the overly loud music) seemed to set a mood more than advance the story. The story itself was overly complicated and several key scenes were under explained. The twist at the end (and all good ’80s horror films had a twist at the end) was great, but the explanation was abrupt, leaving more than a few audience members lost.

If you go into this musical with an open mind and an appreciation for the genre that Velarde is paying tribute to, you will probably have a pretty good time. If this all sounds like a little too much for you, or you are looking for a ‘traditional’ musical, then this one is probably not for you.

Want to find out more? Autumn Moon has a website with photos of the cast, other info about the production, and clips of many of the songs. You can even order the cast album. The show runs through September 2nd.

Book, Music and Lyrics by David Velarde
Directed and Staged by Jonathan Stuart Cerullo
Wings Theatre Company as part of its New Musicals Series