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Monday, October 3, 2011

Starting Here, Starting Now (theatre review)

“It’s like Disney’s Three’s Company,” were the first words whispered to me by my lovely date at the opening night of Theo Ubique’s latest musical charmer, Starting Here, Starting Now. Her comment was made with a beaming smile and full enthusiasm; I squinted my eyes and nodded in agreement, ignorant to the fact that there is no actual Disney reboot of the popular 70s series. But the end of the evening, there was a wave of golden-age thinking, as the audience left longing for the days of crossword puzzles, marijuana smoking, and threesomes, all of which are still prevalent today, but not in same oddly sentimental way.

Throughout Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire’s 1976 revue, the full cast of two women and one man delightfully sing and playfully swing through all the ups and downs of relationships, be they on the street or between the sheets.

But as spicy as some of the material was, the show never took an exploitative turn. This was due, in part, to the tight staging by director Fred Anzevino and simple but graceful choreography of Maggie Portman, who had the three talented performers navigating the cozy 50 seat space inside The No Exit Cafe effortlessly. At no time did anyone seem cramped for space, and while the movement never distracted from the music, the staging was active enough to hold our attention throughout.

The trio of performers left little, if nothing, to be desired. While Teddy Boone took turns with one or both of his female co-stars, his pairings with Hillary Patingre supplied some of the most enjoyable moments of the evening. Stephanie Herman really shined both in hilarious moments (lightening the mood early on with “I’m a Little Bit Off”) and in her breathtaking solos. Her Act II performance of “What About Today” was worth the price admission on its own.

Herman, Boone, and Patingre all shine here. Musical Director Eugene Dizon had the cast completely in command of their voices, and each remained committed more to their songs than to their own vocal ambitions. Their voices sparkled throughout the space without ever becoming overbearing or self-indulgent.

Raquel Adorno’s throwback costume design provided just the right touch. She captured the period and complemented the actors without go overboard. While the decked bedroom/sex pad was more suitable for the tease of a threesome, it also provided a perfect center piece for songs of frustration, confusion, and philosophizing 70’s style (complete with a pantomimed joint).

While the ending seemed to lack the typical finale panache, Starting Here, Starting Now hit all of the right notes in the relationship landscape in a tight 70 minute program, though the humorous musings of Maltby and Shire seemed to click a little bit more than some of the more serious moments. “I Don’t Believe It” hilariously captured the sour grapes all of us have experienced towards other couples, and Herman’s “Crossword Puzzle” seemed to come from an odd inspiration, but ultimately captured the slow burn of couples conflict stemming from the littlest things. Let’s just say, it’s not about the puzzle.

Theo Ubique’s latest offering is a must see! The book as well as the production had an endearing and enjoyable synthesis of period nostalgia and timeless accessibility. It transported you back to the not-so-distant past, when romantic relationships were unaffected by texting, facebook, AIDS, vajazzling, or The Starr Report, and yet there was an honesty in the themes and moments that were more-than relatable, even if, like me, you were born after this show first premiered.

The performances and the music are colorful, warm to the cheeks, and good to the ear, with plenty of highlights throughout the revue. Whether you enjoy musical theatre or not (and I typically do not), Starting Here, Starting Now is a winner

A+

Michael Dice Jr.

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