The Village Playbox of Haddon Heights, NJ re-entered the world of musical theatre last night with LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSICAL STORIES OF HARRY CHAPIN. Musical stories are exactly what the small troupe brought to the stage. Harry Chapin, best known for his #1 hit “Cat’s in the Cradle,” was a singer, songwriter, philanthropist and activist. First and foremost, however, he was a storyteller. His songs were so much more than simple melodies you tapped your foot to, but instead poignant commentaries on life and society. He had a gift of being able to make you laugh and cry simultaneously. Chapin fought for social issues and championed the cause of world hunger* donating an estimated one third of his earnings to charitable causes. Chapin’s unique blend of folk music and storytelling touched both the heart and the soul. Struck down way before his time by a tragic car accident at the age of thirty eight, his legacy lives on in the musical revue LIES AND LEGENDS.
Nestled in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Haddon Heights, NJ is a tiny gem of a theatre company. The Village Playbox celebrates its 73rd consecutive year of producing live theatre in the small town. The theatre company refers to itself as a “club” and subscribers are referred to as “members” highlighting the true family atmosphere of the organization. Patrons are treated at intermission to complimentary home baked goods, hot drinks, homemade lemonade and good conversation. My hat is off to the baker of the chocolate chip cookies with pecans…yummy!
LIES & LEGENDS: THE MUSICAL STORIES OF HARRY CHAPIN is a little known work of art highlighting the folk rock stylings of Harry Chapin. His music celebrated the extraordinary lives of ordinary folk and whether through comedy or pathos, reminded us of a shared emotional heritage. Here, the most inherently theatrical of Chapin’s narrative pieces have been assembled, allowing the stories within them to dictate their own dramatic shape. Originally produced Off-Broadway 1984, the show only saw a 79 performance run. A collection of 25 independent musical numbers with no storyline to connect them, the show truly is simply a musical revue.
LIES & LEGENDS is the first mainstage musical produced by the all volunteer organization in 30 years and they handled it magnificently. Designer Bill Shaughnessy created a simple yet effective set allowing the actors to take the audience on a journey with them. Shaughnessy also provided amazingly effective and poignant lighting for such a small space. Adding to the atmosphere was the inclusion of a live pit housed within the set. They occasionally overpowered the performers, but were a real treat over canned music.
Director John Blackwell paid tribute to the legendary teller of tales with a touching multimedia presentation that includes historically accurate sound bites of interviews with the songwriter and a simple slide show which complements the show well.
The small cast of five embodied the music and reinvented themselves creating new characters with each musical number. I found the significant age difference between the very young female performers and the significantly older male performers, easily 20 years their seniors a bit uncomfortable as they were often asked to play romantically against each other. Amanda Kochey excelled in the group numbers with her commitment to character, but lacked the vocal and emotional development to overcome the age differences. Danielle DiPillo, however, managed to transcend her age with a maturity to her acting well beyond her years. Her grasp of the pain and suffering of women in staggering circumstances was uncanny. DiPillo stole the show every time she took center stage with her warm tone and emotive voice making this reviewer wish she sang all the female leads. Greg Murphy sang a beautiful rendition of “Cat’s in the Cradle” and stopped the show with his humorous rendition of “Bananas.” Murphy’s comic timing was impeccable. Tyrone Fuimaono brought an energy and sense of excitement to the cast that was unparalleled. His performance was fun, spirited and quirky. His vocals were consistently accurate and it was clear that he was having a great time. In turn the audience had a great time with him. A true gem of a find for this local theatre group was singer, dancer, choreographer, musician Michael Post. Seriously, what can’t this guy do? A true asset to the cast and the club, Post provided a great performance and truly elevated the show with his guitar and banjo performance. In addition, Post provided a beautifully choreographed and executed dance number with DiPillo to “Shooting Star” which touched my heart.
In the words of Harry Chapin, “when you sing from the inside” truly remarkable things happen. LIES & LEGENDS is a great little musical revue performed by local amateurs who, like Chapin, are putting their hearts and souls into their performances.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Outside of his musical career, Harry Chapin was deeply committed to philanthropy, particularly fighting hunger in the United States and around the world. In 1975, he co-founded World Hunger Year. To help support this cause, Village Playbox has teamed with N3C Food Pantry of South Jersey and asks that anyone attending LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSICAL STORIES OF HARRY CHAPIN donate non-perishable goods to help this worthwhile cause. (Specifically, the Food Pantry is in need of canned vegetables and soups).
LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSICAL STORIES OF HARRY CHAPIN
Directed by John Blackwell
Feb 1 – 16, 2013
The Village Playbox
First Presbyterian Church
28 Seventh Avenue
Haddon Heights, NJ 08035