Professional Nonprofit Theater on Martha's Vineyard
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Wicked Good And a Splash of Youth Too

by Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

The program notes were clear: Four singers and two pianists were on the bill for 2019’s first Wicked Good Musical Revue at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. But, as soprano and musical director Molly Conole would soon sing in Gooch’s Song from Mame by Jerry Herman: “You left something out!”

Not for long, though. Ms. Conole’s secret emerged during the very first song on the program, when she and her troupemates — soprano Jenny Friedman, tenor Ken Romero and bass-baritone David Behnke — were performing Who Will Buy, from Oliver! by Lionel Bart.

Unexpectedly, a fifth black-clad figure rose from the audience and added a youthful tenor voice to the song, striding down the playhouse’s center aisle to join the quartet on stage.

This unannounced guest was 2018 MVRHS graduate Curtis Fisher, who starred as Tony in the high school production of West Side Story and also earned the grand first place prize at the school’s science fair, both in February of last year.

Now taking a gap year before starting college at Northeastern University in the fall, Mr. Fisher considers musical theatre an extracurricular to his plans for academic honors in computer science and environmental science. His winning science fair project was titled A Community Connection: Engineering A Modular Platform for Environmental Sensing.

But as part of the Wicked Good Musical Revue troupe, Mr. Fisher revealed a sensitivity and range that suggest leading roles could be his again, if he wishes, in Northeastern’s well-regarded theatre program.

Singing the role of Oliver Twist in a song about new beginnings, Mr. Fisher exemplified what Ms. Conole later told the audience was the through-note of the revue’s 2019 debut. Each Wicked Good Musical Revue has a theme, Ms. Conole said, before playfully suggesting that this one was “Dickensian tragedies.

“No, we fooled you!” she quickly added. The 16 songs in this latest show instead reflect the pivotal moments in life where one must make a decision, for good or ill, in order to move forward, Ms. Conole said.

In Who Will Buy, young Oliver looks out on a new day as London street peddlers begin to cry their wares, while he also stands at the threshold of a new life. The song was a sunny, pleasing start to a revue with many angles: tender, loving, heartbroken, terrified and resolute by turns, always well-acted by the singers.

Ms. Conole’s comic Gooch stands at a very different threshold than Oliver’s: imminent, unwed motherhood, as a result of partaking too freely in Auntie Mame’s advice to “live!”

A bubbly presence during the cast’s between-song announcements, Ms. Conole inhabited her song roles completely, whether as the panicky bride of Getting Married Today, a delightful patter song from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, or the grief stricken widow of Always Starting Over (If/Then, an Idina Menzel vehicle orginally directed on Broadway by Michael Greif of Rent and Dear Evan Hanson fame).

In duets, Ms. Friedman blended her lustrous soprano as seamlessly with Ms. Conole’s silvery voice for Hard Candy Christmas (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas by Carol Hall) as with David Behnke’s polished-mahogany tones in the touching It Takes Two, from Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Ms. Friedman’s two solos also revealed her range as a singer and actress. In Nothing, from Edward Kleban and Marvin Hamlisch’s A Chorus Line, she nailed the role of Diana Morales, a Nuyorican actress disgusted with her pretentious high school’s improv class. As Cathy, the discarded wife who opens Jason Robert Brown’s 2001 musical The Last Five Years, she was impeccably sad and movingly still, her hands a mute presence of abandonment and loss.

Mr. Romero showed his versatility as well, bringing both gravity and excitement to the role of Robert Louis Stevenson’s doomed Dr. Jekyll, on the verge of his first self-experiment, in This Is the Moment (from Jekyll & Hyde by Leslie Bricusse, Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn). Later, he nearly brought down the house with a tap-dance number from Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel.

While Mr. Behnke did not tap-dance, he exulted gloriously as a temporarily-mortal Death in the song Alive, from Maury Yeston’s Death Takes a Holiday, and shared the touching Fathers of Fathers, from Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire’s Closer than Ever, with Mr. Herman and Mr. Fisher.

Pianists Peter Boak and Molly Sturges, both revue regulars, alternated keyboard and page-turning duties throughout the program, which proved the joys of deep-catalog Broadway with numerous lesser-known songs. Not that Vineyard audiences needed proof. A show of hands at Sunday’s matinee revealed close to three-quarters of the near-sellout audience were repeat customers for the troupe’s cabaret-style performances.

This suggests that now, rather than later, is the time to secure tickets for the next Wicked Good Musical Revue, Feb. 8, 9 and 10. The theme of the show will be history, Ms. Conole said. Asked if another special guest will be on the bill, she smiled and said “Can’t tell. Top secret.”

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