Fringe (adjective), not part of the mainstream, unconventional, peripheral or extreme.
Day three of the 10th Anniversary of the Vegas Fringe Festival at Las Vegas Little Theatre (LVLT) finds me seeing the final two entries to make coverage complete. Original scripts can abound here – and that’s part of what a fringe festival should be. It’s a great place for playwrights to try out a new piece, see how it’s received, look for what works (“Baritones of Love”) and what doesn’t (“Hanging In There”).
“Hanging In There”
★☆☆☆☆ - Not Hungry
When you open a program and read a short synopsis, you immediately have certain expectations. When you scan the bios and see amazing credits, expectations rise. When the playwright’s bio says she holds BA’s in both acting and writing, those expectations rise even further. The more professional the claims, the higher expectations climb. When said playwright acts as their own Dramaturg with a “Playwright’s Note” you have a tendency to believe it, to have faith that what they’ve written will find its way to the stage.
Playwright Kate Labahn has taken an old fairy tale (“Rapunzel”), mashed it up with a storyline taken from “Into the Woods” and tossed in a conglomeration of other things; pop-culture things like references to “Twilight,” Eagles tunes, and films like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Star Wars.” The many inane clichés such as “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” and “Blonds have more fun,” further muddied the result.
With so many acting credits to their names, I can only blame Labahn, who directed, for the quality of the performances. Timing was so off-kilter that what may have been witty on the page fell flat. There were long pauses and missed cues. Mimed conversations (instead of low-volume ones) behind other actors abound. There were so many blackouts in the 110-minute piece that I lost count.
Thomas Brannon (Prince Garrett) and Jordan M. Wiessen (Xavier/Rathin) both do a fair job in their roles. Alex Kersting, who will have the title role in the upcoming film “Butter” (now in post-production) opposite Mira Sorvino, Annabeth Gish, Mykelti Williamson, and Ravi Patel, became the best part of the entirety when he broke the fourth wall to ad lib a forward leap in the story.
“Baritones of Love”
Produced by Enoch Augustus Scott, Dr. Mark Wherry, and Katie Kenner
★★★★★ - Irresistible
What an absolute delight. This celebration of baritones, written by Enoch Augustus Scott and Dr. Mark Wherry, is fast, well told, and genuinely funny. This is a cast of professionals and it shows.
Wherry accompanies Scott, Randall Keith, David Villella, and Ryan Mercier (understudy for Carnell Johnson for this performance), who all have beautiful, powerful baritone voices. Add classic choreography by Scott and Kenner and the result is pure entertainment that you don’t want to end.
With a story arc premise reminiscent of “Forever Plaid” mashed up with “The Taffetas,” and covering songs such as “That’s Life” and “You Raise Me Up,” you might be tempted to call this a juke box musical. But you’d be wrong. Wherry has composed some original music and lyrics which move the story forward.
The four guys are weary of tenors getting all the glory, and dream of making the bigtime in…Branson. The monkey wrench in the dream is a regular cast member has sent a replacement to cover for him at this important performance. The acting is superb, the patter between numbers comes across as real rather than scripted. They’re having fun and it shows.
If I have any suggestions for revision it would be to introduce the characters by name a few more times so an audience remembers them, and let the “cover guy” screw up the choreography just a little bit at the first.
From a glorious piece from “Don Giovani” to the quartet delivering a heart-wrenching rendition of “The Impossible Dream,” this is top notch from start to finish. Add to the 45-minute show, put an orchestra behind them and this would be, if not Broadway, at the very least high-quality showroom material.
“Baritones of Love” is another specific reason to head on down to the Fringe Festival. This is one more (the other being “23 and We”) you won’t want to miss!
For exact curtain days and times, check the LVLT website; https://www.lvlt.org
When: Thursday - Sunday through June 16; times vary
Best of Fringe Encore performances: 6/21 & 6/22; 8:00pm
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff drive
Tickets: $12 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)