Anyone who has had a truly cathartic experience on New Year’s Eve should proceed directly to the Port Mansion Theatre box office and snap up some passes to this slight musical that packs a subtle emotional punch once the miracle of instant snow removal permits the wayward quartet of weather-bound travelers to continue life’s journey anew.
Stephen Witkin’s script forces together a same-time-next-year couple (shoe salesman/wannabe painter Ben—Port newcomer Patrick R. Brown and near-actor Honey—Rennie Wilkinson) a Jewish Princess (Shelly, played with gusto and grit by Michelle Truman) and a clinically depressed history teacher (Marshall, portrayed with fine madness by Jon-Alex MacFarlane) into the close quarters of a bus station’s diner where they wait out the storm and sort out their lives.
Director/choreographer Glen Kotyk keeps the show moving along steadily and makes excellent use of Stewart Simpson’s practical set, which includes the subliminal “Fly the World Above the Crowd” sign and a backward facing counter that makes the numerous unseen waitress gags work like a charm. And when called upon to send his charges around the dance floor (notably “Here’s to Us Tonight”), Kotyk uses every bit of the stage and demonstrates his savvy skill of creating movement that makes those numbers look better than they sound. Only a bit more homework on the jazz hands could improve the result.
As usual, musical director/pianist Roger Perkins sailed through the score with zest and aplomb, but Joey Miller’s music lingers not, serving more as a rhythm ace than tune factory. The cast members acquit themselves in kind; the ensembles not yet pitch perfect and the solos more workmanlike than memorable.
Many of the details are gems: Honey’s corset purse is a hoot; Marshall’s happy face suicide cup a delight, as is his reading material (Miller’s Death of a Salesman, although an older edition would better fit the café’s “period” look). Shelly’s fur motif works beautifully, but with the blizzard of the century raging outside, it seems odd that—following her brief outdoor excursion—her coat stays as dry as the humour.
And laughs there are: the wise-cracks, puns and one-liners give the production a frothy texture even as issues of fidelity, career path, and personal ridicule lurk just beneath the surface. Epitaph: “[Marshall] lived life to its minimum;” Comment on Ben’s potential as an artist: “He couldn’t draw a bath.”
When Act II draws to a close (“Next Year” the procrastinator’s anthem), this production suddenly comes into its own as the four lost souls find themselves and prepare to move on—with genuine changes to their lives. This collective metamorphosis is the result of their shared experience, proving effectively that no problem is as bad as it seems when said out loud to receptive ears. JWR