20 June 2012
In ‘Rose,’ songmakes comeback
Keith Glover's "The Rose of Corazon: A Texas Songplay," in its world-premiere run at Shepherdstown, W.Va.'s Contemporary American Theater Festival, marks a refreshing change of pace for a tired genre. Violating the inflexible tenets of theatrical postmodernist dogma, it's an intelligent little musical propelled by understandable, metrical lyrics that embroider attractive, listenable tunes. What a concept.
Written and composed in collaboration with Billy Thompson and George Caldwell and directed by Mr. Glover, "The Rose of Corazon" can best be described as a song cycle from which springs the narrative structure of a play.
Set in Texas at the close of World War II (or "the last good war," as the program inaptly describes these events), Mr. Glover's drama imaginatively traces the trials and tribulations of Rosa (Arielle Jacobs), a naive Spanish war bride who joins her new American husband, Champ (Michael Flanigan), in far-distant Texas.
Champ is an aviator and a barnstorming stunt pilot, a prototypical American hero, brimming with swagger and gumption. However, injuries he has sustained during the war have ultimately tragic consequences for his town and his new wife.
Mr. Glover, with an assist from his collaborators, proves to be an eclectic and wide-ranging composer-lyricist who has not bought into the notion that an enjoyable song is anathema to the contemporary theater experience. He is comfortable with musical idioms ranging from jazz to rock, from mariachi to zydeco. He adapts these styles with an ease borne of experience, creating a sprightly show with wide appeal.
Although "Rose" is an American play, its structure borrows heavily from the magical realism originated by imaginative Central and South American writers. Recognizably naturalistic elements of Mr. Glover's plot are borne aloft by supernatural characters that are not always what they seem, leading the audience to wonder if they are not being transported to a dream world where perceptions of time, reality and illusion grow increasingly out of focus.
Fortunately, the playwright generally manages to make these elements work coherently. However, the play's ambiguous finale -- reminiscent of the unsettling, enigmatic conclusion to Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" -- is unsatisfying, abrupt and a little unfair, leaving a few too many loose threads dangling from Mr. Glover's otherwise elegant musical and narrative tapestry.
"The Rose of Corazon's" appealing cast turns in a classy, crisp, emotional performance. As Rosa, young Miss Jacobs is a believably winsome war bride. Her voice is sweet and surprisingly mature, blessedly liberated from that irritating Broadway brassiness that dictates that every song be belted out, regardless of its content.
As Champ, Michael Flanigan is brash and energetic, infusing his romantic character with a complex vulnerability and boyish charm. His vocal style is more driving than that of Miss Jacobs, but it provides an effective counterpoint in the ensemble numbers.
Joe (Perry Ojeda), Champ's foil, proves a worthy competitor for Rosa's affections, but his voice occasionally seemed a bit strained during Sunday's performance.
Playing a variety of characters, Celina Polanco, Caesar Samayoa and Christianne Tisdale lent vocal and dramatic gusto to the proceedings, while musicians Michael Pettry, Billy Thompson and Toby Williams breezed brilliantly and almost effortlessly through the show's richly varied musical palette.
Keith Glover's "The Rose of Corazon: A Texas Songplay." Additional music and lyrics by Billy Thompson and George Caldwell, at the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF)
Through Aug. 1
Campus of Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va. For directions, go to www.catf.org/directions.
$26 to $33. Group rates are also available.