Monday, February 3, 2014

Train in Vain: New Musical Crossing Debuts at Signature Theater in Arlington, Va.

Review by Mark A. Newman

The Signature Theater in Arlington, Va., has once again debuted a new musical and, once again, the results are mixed but overall fairly positive. The premise is a bit worn – travelers meeting from different eras who wait for a train that never comes – but a game cast and lively tunes keep the show from devolving into a cliché-ridden amalgam of “been there, done that.”

The characters are a hodgepodge of “types” from throughout the ages: the young soldier about to go fight in World War I (a winning Austin Colby) being seen off to war by his mother (Peggy Yates); a man born into wealth from the 1930s (Chris Sizemore); a modern-day backpacker off to see the world (a likable Christopher Mueller); a mother at the station to meet her daughter (legendary diva Florence Lacey); a mother and son from the 1950s (the excellent Tracy Lynn Olivera, the not-so-excellent John Ray); a homeless lady (the always incomparable Nova Y. Payton, fighting a cold the night I saw it but it truly didn’t matter); and the cast standout, newcomer Ines Nassara as a freedom rider from the 1960s, on her way to make a difference in the world.

Was the show a tad on the predictable side? A little. I felt like I had seen similar stories done in a variety of other venues. It had the feeling of purgatory, as these ghosts of the past wandered around the train platform quite fluidly thanks to Eric Schaeffer’s solid direction. However, the show never delved into maudlin territory despite its themes. Admittedly the book by Grace Barnes gets a little heavy handed at times as each of the character’s motivation is really hammered home. Yes, we get it, the backpacker’s mom died and she never got to see Paris. Yes, the wealthy man feels like a failure and unworthy; let’s move on. 

Thankfully Matt Conner’s refreshing score keeps these wayward travelers’ journeys from stopping dead in their (train) tracks. To be honest, the music is one of the better scores to a new musical that I’ve heard in recent weeks, which may in some way have made the show more enjoyable for me. The score is tuneful, hummable, and full of memorable numbers, but most of all, it’s straightforward. In other words, it’s no Sunday in the Park with George. And that’s a good thing. 

One of the highlights of the show was the amazing design, especially the lighting scheme dreamed up by Chris Lee. Since the action all takes place on one set, it was up to Lee to enhance the emotions of the songs with his transformative designs. While he’s never met a blue gel he didn’t like, I have to admit that Lee’s lighting is easily becoming one of the many attractive features about seeing shows at Signature. 

The same is true for the scenic design, this time by Schaeffer, and the mish mash of costumes by Kathleen Geldard, which could’ve easily fallen into the “let’s see what’s in the costume trunk” category but easily and eloquently help determine each of the character’s era. The rustic train depot set worked well as it could’ve easily been anywhere in time as well as anywhere in the U.S. Crossing is most decidedly a show with American themes of regret, hope, missed opportunities, etc., all of which ring true from decade to decade, era to era, generation to generation.

Featuring: Austin Colby (Soldier), Florence Lacey (Woman with Flowers), Christopher Mueller (Backpacker), Ines Nassara (Civil Rights Marcher), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Woman in Pink), Nova Y. Payton (Homeless Woman) John Ray (Boy) Chris Sizemore (Wealthy Man), and Peggy Yates (Mother).

Book by Grace Barnes
Music & Lyrics by Matt Conner
Additional Lyrics by Grace Barnes
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Orchestrator August Eriksmoen
Music Director Gabe Mangiante
Scenic Design Eric Schaeffer 
Costume Design Kathleen Geldard
Lighting Design Chris Lee
Stage Manager Kerry Epstein

Tickets: Ticketmaster (703) 573-SEAT (7328)
Signature Theatre • 4200 Campbell Avenue • Arlington, VA 22206

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