Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Featuring: Ross Lekites, Zachary Prince, Rolf Saxon, Megan McGinnis, Sharon Rietkerk, Laura D'Andre
Directed by: Meredith McDonough
Music director: James Sampliner
Scenic designer: Daniel Zimmerman
Costume designer: Cathleen Edwards
Lighting design: Paul Toben
Sound design: Brendan Aanes
Casting director: Leslie Martinson
New York casting director: Alan Filderman
Stage manager: Justin D. Schlegel
Assistant stage manager: Emily Anderson Wolf
Orchestra: Conductor and keys, James Sampliner; keys, Sean Kana; violin, Carol Kutsch; cello, Kris Yenney; reeds, Dana Bauer; percussion, Artie Storch
Running time: 110 minutes, one intermission
When: July 8 through August 2, 2015
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, California
Tickets: $19-$74; call 1-650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.
rises a beautiful new musical
It's such a joy to see a fine new musical come together, especially if we've had the opportunity to watch it develop over a period of years a frequent process at TheatreWorks.
"Triangle" debuted at TheatreWorks' 2012 New Works Festival, where it confused some audience members early on, but ended up winning hearts with its story of two love affairs in the face of tragedies.
On Saturday, at its world premiere in Palo Alto's Lucie Stern Theatre, "Triangle" opened with crystal-cut clarity, engaging the audience immediately with humor, romance and pathos.
And with a fabulous score, delivered by a cast of deeply impressive singers and an excellent pit orchestra, with ear-worm melodies that happily stay with us when we leave the theater.
It is elegantly constructed and easy to see what's going on. Brian is working on his doctorate, a little panicky because he is due for a meeting with his professor, and there is a crowd of people blocking his way. It is March 25, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, in which 146 people were killed.
Brian is headed for the Brown Building, where N.Y.U. has its chemistry labs, but in 1911 it was the Asch Building, site of that fire. In 2011, the crowd is there to remember the victims, as their names are read out loud.
Brian's friend Cynthia tries to get him to have coffee with her and "some friends from the bio department. They’re nice people. They’re clean people. And they promised not to smell like meal worms. And one of them even plays for your team..."
We've been hearing the song "Maybe No One's Ever Gone," but then the lights change and the uptight Brian sings about how he's tired of New York, but "Take me up, nine floors up, to my office down the hall. There I found, five doors down, a place I'm safe above it all."
It's a lovely song, prettier to hear than to read, especially with Ross Lekites singing it in a beautiful high tenor that sometimes slips easily into a very smooth falsetto to hit Curtis Moore's fabulous melody lines. And suddenly we know that Brian has some issues about being close to other people.
Enter Zachary Prince as Ben, who wants to know more about the Triangle Fire, especially about the couple who stood on a ledge and kissed, before the man picked her up and then dropped her as the fire raged behind them, so she would not have to do it herself. Then, he followed her.
Turns out that nine floors up, five doors down, is exactly where that happened, 100 years before. And when Brian is up there, alone, he sees that very women who died when the man who loved her dropped her. How he sees her is a surprising, fine bit of stagecraft.
When Ben shows up, having followed Brian, he doesn't see the woman, but is excited to be in the room, because maybe, just maybe, the woman who died had been a relative, source of an old family mystery.
He's excited; Brian is excited after his professor talks with him. The two men kiss.
Ben is sure they have a special connection. But Brian has issues.
We also begin to learn about Sarah, the woman from 1911 Brian had seen. In 1911 she was a recent Jewish immigrant, as were many of the people who died in that horrible fire, and was worried about being forced to work on Shabbos.
"Saturday is Shabbos. Jews rest, we pray," she says. But she needs the money, because her sister, Chaya, a widow, is pregnant, and otherwise they have no money.
Enter Prince again, this time as Vincenzo, her foreman, who has his own problems with his nasty boss. Sarah begins to sew at night with Vincenzo and his sister Theresa, and before long another problematical romance develops, this one between a Jewish immigrant and an Italian immigrant, at a time when such things were not accepted.
As the play develops, Brian becomes obsessed with the ghost of Sarah, and tries to find out who she was. But he refuses to make contact with Ben, and it takes a while to learn why, via delicately delivered clues.
It will be more fun for you to hear the jokes, the fabulous music, and be touched by the emotions that drive the characters of this play, than for you to read more about them here.
And really, my words could not do it justice. It is a lovely play, and better seen than read about.
Prince also has a fabulous voice, fully capable of those slides into falsetto when needed. (He was Frankie Valli in the first national tour of "Jersey Boys.")
Megan McGinnis, who stole hearts from the audience in "Daddy Long Legs" at TheatreWorks, is lovely as Sarah, and is the voice of Jenni, Brian's sister, the one person who had made him feel safe and loved.
Sharon Rietkerk, who is composed of beauty and bounce and extraordinary talent, is hilarious as Cynthia, and touching as Chaya. Rolf Saxon is solid as always in three parts, as is Laura D'Andre in two.
All of these people are excellent singers, and Moore's score requires no less. Moore's longtime friend Thomas Mizer wrote the lyrics, and it is rare that so fine a team emerges. Between them and the excellent cast and orchestra much of the meaning and emotion of this touching play are delivered in the music. The two also wrote the book, sharing that credit with Joshua Scher.
Let us now bow in gratitude to an excellent orchestra, which delivered the musically fascinating score with considerable skill, led by conductor and keyboard player James Sampliner. Also, on keys was Sean Kana. Carol Kutsch on violin, Kris Yenney on cello, Dana Bauer on reeds, Artie Storch on percussion. They all deserve an ovation.
The Lucie Stern Theatre is often a nightmare house for sound, but sound designer Brendan Aanes delivered the goods, from spoken dialogue to beautifully performed songs. Daniel Zimmerman's scenic design gave us walls at an angle, with bits that slid in to transform the Asch Building to the Brown Building, Brian's office, the Shirtwaist company sewing floor, Brian's apartment, Sarah and Chaya's tiny tenement, and more.
Paul Toben's lighting design made it all work, with subtlety and clarity. Here, we know, are Brian's private thoughts; here is the lab; here is the fire in 1911.
Cathleen Edwards' costume designs took us easily from 1911 to 2011, and helped the two times combine when necessary.
Meredith McDonough, who used to be TheatreWorks director of New Works, and is now at Actors Theatre of Nashville, did a stellar job as director of this play. Leslie Martinson, TheatreWorks associate artistic director, did her usual brilliant job as casting director.
TheatreWorks delivers, again.
Email John Orr at email@example.com