By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Reviewer
Creative Cauldron is doing our community a wonderful service by sponsoring this new work, “Kaleidoscope,” a beautiful and tenderly produced new musical by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith. Why, you say? Well, I’ll tell you. A real-life star, Florence Lacey, who replaced Patti Lupone in “Evita” on Broadway in 1979, (and who, let me hasten to say, is still a powerhouse singer and marvelous actress) brought the idea of writing a musical about Alzheimer’s to Matt and Stephen. She wanted to do something based on her own experience with a close relative who had dementia and she wanted it set in Florence Lacey’s world of the theatre. Her insight into a world she knows so well sets up the story poignantly, but not in a sad, or dirge-like way. The music in this show is lovely, lively, and beautifully performed by three additional superb singers/actors. I am well acquainted with this disease because of a relative who is currently suffering from it. Matt and Stephen write beautifully and correctly about a long and interesting life lived almost completely in bright theatre lights, just as those lights are beginning to go out.
The story, which took ten years to get to the stage, examines the life of Evelyn Thorne (Florence Lacey), as she is ending a long and illustrious career in the theatre. Her daughters begin to realize that her memory is fading and try to help her keep the memories alive in order to find a way to communicate with their mother on her journey before it is too late. They do this by asking her to tell and act out her fascinating story in different ways. The “Kaleidoscope” of the title suggests the bright lights of Evelyn’s career and the twists and turns she has to make to hang on to those lights.
The Music/Lyrics/Director, Matt Conner, has been around the Metro area performing, composing, teaching, and music directing for fifteen years. He and his partner, Book/Lyrics/Director, Stephen Gregory Smith, just penned and opened the hilarious “Silver Belles” at Signature Theatre in Arlington, and both appeared in the Helen Hayes Awards© nominated “Titanic” in unforgettable performances! Aside: I’ll never forgive Stephen Gregory Smith for not seeing the iceberg which sank the Titanic. I mean, really! What were you doing? But back to my story….These extremely talented and insightful men know their way around music and lyrics and give us a lush, joyful and touching score of sometimes faintly familiar tunes harkening back to musicals once performed by Evelyn Thorne. The three piece orchestra, led by Music Director, Warren Freeman, and comprised of Jenny Cartney, Jeff Thurston, and Scott Van Domelen wittily and charmingly backs up the four women to perfection while producing a rich tapestry of beautiful sound.
A first-rate four-woman cast (one of them a very bright, engaging young girl, Sophia Manicone) brings this story to vibrant life. And what a life it must have been! Evelyn Thorne heads up her merry band of thespians supposedly traveling from city to city to bring her one woman show to her adoring fans in the twilight of her career. Aided by her daughters, Susan Derry, acting as her director, and Catharine Purcell, acting as her stage manager, she offers her sometimes hilarious “Kaleidoscope” of memories and impressions for as long as her memory holds up. The daughters’ loving attentions keep Evelyn going until the anger and depression begins to wear all of them down, but still the girls keep things moving along with almost unfailingly good humor. Also, a big wow is how I suspect most of the audience felt about 12 year old Sophia Manicone, a mini-Evelyn Thorne playing Child! She has a vibrant voice and demeanor far beyond her years and portrays the young Evelyn to perfection and very believably, too.
All the while the music offers marvelous insight into Evelyn’s increasingly confused state of mind in a way that words simply can’t describe. The audience gets swept up into her mesmerizing musical reveries and constantly changing stories through the determined and skillful acting of the entire cast of women. Florence Lacey has it all in spades. I have enjoyed her in many shows, most memorable to me are “Follies” at the Kennedy Center, “Titanic” and “Sunset Boulevard” at Signature Theatre, but this performance is a tour de force like no other role I have seen her in. And she brings it in such a way that you simply think she IS Evelyn Thorne with all her attendant baggage. Her singing is as fresh as it ever was.
I have seen Susan Derry (Director) in other shows like the brilliant “Ragtime” and the unforgettable “Mame” with Christine Baranski at the Kennedy Center and she is a riveting singer and totally believable actor. For this show she is featured as a harried and sometimes thoughtless daughter and makes a huge impression. Catherine Purcell’s (Stage Manager) work is new to me, but her sympathetic, pointed portrayal of a confused, overworked daughter just trying to keep it together for her sister and her failing mother makes me want to see more! Their banter as sisters and their obvious love for the mother, though she begins to forget who they are as the show goes on, keeps the story alive and interesting, while their songs sometime bring tears to the audience’s eyes.
The costumes created by Alison Samantha Johnson are perfection, especially Evelyn’s caftans which are of gorgeous materials and brilliantly colored in jewel tones, of course, and accessorized with colorful jewelry, suggesting a “Kaleidoscope” of palettes. There are several of these caftans, each one suggesting a period of her life as it is passes. The daughters’ frequent changes of clothes suggest the different time periods and towns where their mother is performing. Spot on!
The lighting by Lynn Joslin and scenic design by Margie Jervis perfectly highlight the mood and changing times of the show, and the intimate setting of the little jewel of a black box theatre inside the Creative Cauldron is the perfect showcase for this absolutely right-for-its-time show! See it whether or not you or your family have not yet been touched by dementia or Alzheimer’s. The music and superb performances as well as the singing will lighten your heart and enhance your awareness of a monstrous disease.
Note: Following Thursday and Sunday performances the Creative Cauldron staff will be joined in discussions by experts in senior memory care and members of the professional staff of The Kensington Falls Church, an assisted living care facility. The audience is invited to stay and take part in these discussions.
The World Premiere of “Kaleidoscope” at the Creative Cauldron runs May 4-28, 2017, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. Creative Cauldron is located at ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 South Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046.
Ticket Information: Adults: $30, Seniors/Military: $26 and Students: $20. Season passes and discounts for groups of 10 or more available. For tickets visit: www.creativecauldron.org or call 703-436-9948. Free parking is available in the 410 and 400 South Maple Building Garages.