|Humble benefactor Eliot Rosewater|
That's because Vonnegut's work tends to disturb as well as amuse. Most aspects of his pervasive wry humor are as likely to ruffle your feathers as soothe you. "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" meets the mark, with the particular benefit of the opportunity to appreciate the burgeoning partnership of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman. They would go on to become a worthy successor to the Sherman Brothers as songwriters for Disney films.
The show has a book by Ashman, and additional lyrics by Dennis Green. Bryan Fonseca directs the Phoenix production, which inaugurates the new facility's main stage, and Tim Brickley makes a crucial contribution as musical director, getting the songs in apple-pie order. Among other design credits, the versatility and flair in Bernie Killian's set and Ben Dobler's projections must not go unmentioned.
|Eliot (in helmet) joins into the part-time bravado of a volunteer fire company.|
Particularly helping the performance make a good first impression is Mariel Greenlee's choreography, with its flip-book-style stop, jerk, and flow sequences in "The Rosewater Foundation."
That ensemble number introduces us to the freewheeling style of Eliot Rosewater, scion of a deep-rooted, deep-pocketed Indiana family. His foundation dispenses largesse with loosey-goosey benevolence, and the plot soon rests upon an ambitious young lawyer's scheme for wresting control of the family fortune from Eliot. If he can be found certifiably crazy, the golden goose may be compelled to lay eggs for a feckless Rhode Island cousin, incidentally enriching their attorney.
|The Rosewater Foundation staff and clients stiffen under the wayward leadership of Eliot.|
The time of the action is 1963, before the epochal Kennedy assassination; but the parameters of today's political climate were already taking shape. And Eliot represents the viewpoint that everyone deserves respect and dignity, and that "the money river" shouldn't flow along channels accessible only to those already wealthy. Feeling trapped within the station in life one was born into should not deprive anyone of a chance to thrive, he feels.
Typically, however, Vonnegut doesn't spare the poor people of the Rosewater hometown satirical
|Kilgore Trout expounds under the skeptical appraisals of McAllister (left) and Sen. Rosewater.|
|Townspeople celebrate their good fortune unto the next generation.|
For me, Menken's music is more merely serviceable here than it later became when the partnership flowered in "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," and "Beauty and the Beast." And, of course, "Little Shop of Horrors," which put their names on the map, had already showed their aptitude for the stage musical. In this show, "Look Who's Here" has a catchy tune to match Ashman's gratitude-rich text; otherwise, the melodies mainly do just what they're required to do. One of them, "Thank God for the Volunteer Fire Brigade," is a great male chorus of rousing charm.
Also impressive, and suited to represent the underlying sentimentality of much Vonnegut, is the uneasy love duet between Eliot and his wife, Sylvia. It was staged brilliantly, with its basis in a phone call prompting the couple's gradual entanglement in those long curly telephone cords we were all familiar with years ago. As the pair's wistfulness moved toward renewed ardor, the cords and the couple suggested a game of cat's cradle (perhaps a deliberate Vonnegut allusion). Emily Ristine caught the stressed patience and increased emotional fragility of Mrs. Rosewater heartbreakingly.
|Norman Mushari peruses the file that feeds his avaricious dreams.|
The large cast amounts to a celebration of the Phoenix's durability and artistic stature over several decades: Besides those already mentioned, we had welcome three-dimensional portrayals of two-dimensional characters by Suzanne Fleenor, Scot Greenwell, Devan Mathias, Deb Sargent, Diane Boehm Tsao, Jean Childers Arnold, Peter Scarbrough, and Josiah McCruiston to revel in. They range from Phoenix founders to relative newcomers. The gathering of such a wealth of diverse talents and energies merits a sustained "Bravo!" and is a fine harbinger of many more decades of Phoenix success. Who could wish this excellent organization anything less?
[Photos by Zach Rosing]