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Audiences Wicked Happy That Wicked Good Is Back

By Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

At long last, it was show time again at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse over the weekend, as the singer/actors of the Wicked Good Musical Revue returned to the stage for the first time since January, 2020.

“We have waited for two years for this moment,” said Molly Conole, nearly levitating with glee as she greeted the audience Sunday afternoon.

“Live music is back, live theatre is back, and you’re here too. We’re going to celebrate,” Ms. Conole said, before joining fellow soprano Jenny Friedman, mezzo Katherine Reid, baritone David Behnke and tenor Ken Romero in the rollicking Together Again for the First Time, by Mel Brooks from his 2007 stage musical of Young Frankenstein.

More musicals from the 21st century — including Come From Away, The Prom and Dear Evan Hansen — provided more than half of the Wicked Good program, with the rest of the songs dating from the 1940s to the 1990s.

Along with the breadth of material, another one of the joys of this troupe is that each person is a skilled actor as well as a gifted vocalist. Without costumes and sets, their performances summoned new characters, scenes and complications with every song.

Mr. Behnke, an operatic baritone trained at the Yale School of Music, embodied the love-struck sailor Gabey in Lucky to Be Me, by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green from their 1944 musical On the Town.

In You and I, from the 1980s musical Chess by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (of ABBA) with lyrics by Tim Rice, Mr. Behnke and Ms. Friedman were cerebral and tragic in equal measure as lovers from opposing sides of the Iron Curtain.

Another duet of leave-taking, Stop the World by Irene Sankoff and David Hein from the Canadian musical Come from Away, featured Ms. Conole and Mr. Romero in the roles of airline passengers stranded in Newfoundland after the 9/11 attacks.

Come From Away also provided a stirring number for the ensemble, Welcome to the Rock, with its repeated chorus “I am an Islander.”

Ms. Reid’s performance of No One Else, from Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 — Dave Malloy’s musical retelling of a story from Tolstoy’s War and Peace — overflowed with a youthful sincerity that recalled her appearances as Emily in the 2019 playhouse production of Our Town.

“This is a little less angelic,” warned Ms. Friedman as she followed Ms. Reid into the spotlight for a woozy, unbuttoned rendition of If I Were A Bell from Frank Loesser’s Guys & Dolls, drawing laughs as well as applause as she finished with a ladylike hiccup.

Ms. Reid and Ms. Conole teamed up as the dysfunctional-but-game Big Edie and Little Edie in a vaudeville-tinged Peas in a Pod, by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie from their show Grey Gardens, and Ms. Conole soared in her solo, Stars and the Moon, from Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World, as did Ms. Reid performing Words Fail by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from Dear Evan Hansen.

Accompanying the group, pianists Peter Boak and Molly Sturges traded off keyboard and page-turning duties while Brian Weiland played percussion and guitar.

Mr. Weiland also took a turn onstage with Ms. Conole for the duet When the Kids Get Married, from the 1960s musical I Do! I Do! by Tom Jones (the American librettist known for The Fantastiks) and Harvey Schmidt. Not only did Mr. Weiland sing and act his part convincingly — he even picked up a saxophone and noodled along while Ms. Conole played violin, as they sang about all the things they’d do once the children left the nest.

Mr. Romero gave the audience deeply felt interpretations of Unruly Heart, from The Prom by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin and My Petersburg, by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, from Anastasia. He also broke out his tap shoes for another number from The Prom, Love Thy Neighbor, a gospel-style number with ironic lyrics, ensemble vocals and a big finish that brought much of the house to its feet.

But the Wicked Good crew had one more surprise in store. As the applause died down and audience members took their seats again, Ms. Conole dedicated the show’s final number to Arnie Reisman, a longtime playhouse supporter who chaired its board of directors at the time of his death last month.

“[This] song is a tribute to somebody who has been here for many, many of our shows and we’re really missing him,” she said. “We just had to do a special song for him and for Paula.”

Sharing the verses from line to line and harmonizing the chorus, the troupe then sang I Know You By Heart, a tender elegy by Diane Scanlon and Eve Nelson that was recorded by Eva Cassidy not long before her death.

Constrained by Covid-era Actors Equity rules that impose at least 10 feet between performers and spectators, the Wicked Good cast had to forego its usual post-show tradition of greeting the audience on its way out the door. But Ms. Conole promised an all-new musical revue at the playhouse in early 2022.

Sunday’s nearly-full house joined a sold-out Saturday and well-attended Friday at the 99-seat playhouse, artistic and executive director MJ Bruder Munafo told the Gazette after the show.

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