Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lies and Legends: The Music of Harry Chapin (Beck Center)

Lies and Legends: The Music of Harry Chapin is another gem at Beck

Beck Center is on a roll! Right on the heels of the outstanding ‘A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE,’ which ran to sold out audiences, the theatre has another surefire hit on its hands: ‘‘LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN.’

Harry Chapin told stories through song, and his music has been an integral part of American culture for decades. Creations like “Cats in the Cradle,” “Circle,” and “Tax” are classics that tell stories. These are not just songs, each writing is a tale in-and-of itself.

Born into a wealthy family, Chapin, like fellow born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-the-mouth John F. Kennedy, understood the plight of the American lower and middle classes. He had a keenly developed social conscience. He helped establish the Hungerthon and threw much of his energy into helping the poor and dispossessed. He had an eye and an ear for the lonely and disappointed. He expressed awareness as regret and anxiety in his compositions.

Chapin was killed in an auto accident in July of 1981 at the age of 38. An obituary in Rolling Stone stated that Chapin often described himself as a third-rate folk singer. “Yet Harry Chapin was something more than that. For many who knew him, he was a legitimate hero, not so much for his music as for his consistent and conscientious willingness to fight the right battles, to stand up for a just cause, no matter how hopeless.”

‘Lies and Legends’ is not a musical written by Chapin. It is a review of some of his compositions that was developed after his death. The show opened in New York in April, 1985, ran 79 performances, and has had numerous performances around the country.

Beck Center presented the show 15 years ago. It was directed by William Roudebush, as his first production as Beck’s Artistic Director. The cast consisted of Paul Allesandro, Mickey Houlahan, Monica Olejko, Tracee Patterson and Kent Benz. It was present-day Artistic Director Scott Spence who decided to revive the production. Fortunately, Roudebush and all of the original cast, with the exception of Kent Benz, who died in 1994 at the age of 37, were available, though all but Patterson and Olejko have left the area. Benz’s songs were assigned to Beck Center favorite Dan Folino (who, incidentally is the son of cast member Monica Olejko).

The production is as close to flawless as you will see. Roudebush keeps the scenes moving right along, the stage pictures are ever-changing and interesting, Olejko’s choreography is meaningful and well executed, Nancy Maiers musical direction is note perfect. Don McBride’s multi-level set and Trad Burns lighting enhance the production. The cast’s singing, song interpretation and movement are superlative. Highlights abound.

Monica and Mickey sing dual stories in “Mr. Tanner,” with such precision that both tales can be clearly understood. Tracee’s “Old College Avenue” is poignant. Monica and the boys do a do-op version of “Winter Song,” which is a show stopper. Paul and Monica’s rendition of “Get on With It” is charming. “Dance Band on the Titanic” is a hoot. Dan’s “Odd Job Man” is just out-and-out fun, as is Mickey’s “Six String Orchestra.” I could go on and on and mention every song in the show as a highlight, but you get the point.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Beck Center’s ‘LIES AND LEGENDS: THE MUSIC OF HARRY CHAPIN’ is a gem. If you love Chapin’s stories and music, if you love good singing, if you love creative staging....GET YOURSELF TO BECK....NOW!!!!!!