Monday evening I attended the 2012 Philly Fringe Festival piece EDGES, directed by Ben Smallen, musical director Trevor Pierce, co-produced by A&B Productions and Parallax Theatre Company. The four person show stars Will Connell, Amanda Curry, Jennie Knackstedt and Chris McGinnis.
This 2005 “Song Cycle” was originally conceived by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul while still students at the University of Michigan. The collection of songs interweaves the lives of four young characters, Man 1 and 2, and Woman 1 and 2. The show explores the loving relationships (or lack of) in their lives.
The use of four simple chairs was plenty for song changes. Each character we met was clearly drawn and understood by the audience, nice work from the actors, and nice direction from Smallen. In some key songs we witness the rivalry between two young sisters, a son who rages against his dead-beat father, a woman who breaks up with a boyfriend, and two men giving love advice to their girl-friend.
For the most part, the music was sweet and upbeat. Keyboardist Trevor Pierce and Percussionist Justin Walsh were apt accompanists. Some memorable numbers include a Facebook piece, “Be My Friend”; though clearly dated, it was fun to reminisce about the dawn of the FB phenomenon. Man 1 and 2 were hysterical trying to explain to Woman 1 that her boyfriend was actually gay in “Man of my Dreams.” Woman 2, Jennie Knackstedt, was hilarious dumping her boyfriend, or more accurately, reacting to getting dumped. Amanda Curry (Woman 1) struck a sentimental note contemplating the love of her life in “Lying There.” Will Connell as Man I was a strong tenor, with a great presence on stage. Chris McGinnis was believable as a man with issues, yet also had a lot of fun in the romantic numbers. Jennie Knackstedt truly captivated the audience. She was clearly a stand-out, with a superb mezzo voice that grabbed and delighted us. Though all four performers were strong, she stole the show. Her career is one to keep an eye on in the Philly theatre scene.
On a critical note, I thought EDGES was an abbreviated musical. There were standout songs, but I found I wanted more; more story, more through-line, more plot. The show ends with some upbeat numbers about how they’re “Ready to be loved,” but I wasn’t entirely sure how they got to that point. When did it happen? EDGES offers no real conclusion at the end of the “cycle.” After a lively opening number “Become,” the audience gets ready for a journey of these characters, ready to become the people they want to be. I thought there was a large chunk of story missing to see how they actually “become” the people at the end of the show. Instead of some badly needed plot, it was as if the writers filled twenty minutes with ballads that, though well performed, frankly, started to get a tad boring. Since the show is only slightly over an hour, those 20 minutes were precious for the plot. That was my only beef with Passek and Paul’s EDGES. Overall, it was a pleasant night of musical theater, deftly directed and performed, and I’d recommend to anyone looking for an enjoyable evening of music.
Originally conceived by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Directed by Ben Smallen
Musical Direction by Trevor Pierce
September 5-7, 10, 14, 19-21, 2012
A&B Productions and Parallax Theatre Company
2nd Stage at the Adrienne
2030 Samsom Street