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LOU'S VIEWS: Two ambitious shows yield mixed results

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Lou Harry

This week, two ambitious shows—a new musical at Beef & Boards and magic realism at the Phoenix.

Beef & Boards has a history of doing the Tried & True. And there's a very good reason for that. As a for-profit theater—a rarity—it relies on audiences and little else to cover the bills. And its bills include payroll for a fully professional cast and crew. So it shouldn't surprise anyone that "Annie" and the Rodgers and Hammerstein greatest hits collection are on frequent rotation.

All the more reason why the very existence of "Treasure Island" on its stage is remarkable. For while the title may be a familiar one, the show does not have a Broadway—or even an off-Broadway or touring—pedigree. In fact, this is the first full production of this new musical, so even theater geeks in the audience will be hearing the songs for the first time.

Seeing a new musical try to find its footing is, in some ways, akin to watching a child take her first steps. It can be awkward and thrilling at the same time. Rarely is it graceful. That the well-produced "Treasure Island" stumbles, falls, has trouble finding a rhythm, and sometimes makes you want to hide your eyes in sympathy, is no surprise given the difficulty of the process of new-musical making.

Feeling at times as if it came from the post-"Les Miserables" period of musicals, when sincerity sometimes trumped theatrical imagination, "Treasure Island" is earnest to a fault, avoiding winking at the audience or making trendy, anachronistic references. With music by the show's director, Marc Robin, and book and lyrics by Robin and actor Curt Dale Clark, it's determined to tell Robert Louis Stevenson's story in a straightforward way, without irony or self-conscious hipness.

There's a lot of work still to be done if this show is to have a life beyond this production. Songs don't pay off as well as they should and often seem arbitrarily placed. An opening power tune for Jim Hawkins, "Look at Me," is oddly truncated. Exposition is an ongoing challenge. A creepy early sequence with Pew (the effectively multi-tasking Eddie Curry, who also plays two other roles) sets a tone that soon gets tossed overboard as the show searches for a stylistic through-line. Jim's big heroic moment happens offstage. And Long John Silver's closing number, "Miracles," is a disaster that seems desperately imported from another show.

On the plus side, the all-male cast sounds great. The underscoring is often very effective (the music is consistently better than the lyrics). Rick Desloge gives the one-note character of Jim a winning charm. And Jamie Jackson, who local audiences may remember as the lead in the national tour of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," brings three dimensions to Long John Silver, making what could be a stock character remarkably watchable. Unlike many musical performances, Jackson's Silver seems to carry a history with him. Thought—not the manipulation of a writer—seems to be behind his choices. It's a performance that deserves a stronger show—a show that I hope Robin and Clark's "Treasure Island" becomes one day.

There are moments of beauty and moments of poetry in the Phoenix Theatre's production of Jose Rivera's "References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot." If only the heat content were high enough to justify the title.

The play tells a fairly simple story—frustrated at-home woman comes into conflict with returning-from-the-war husband—but wraps it in language both delicate and coarse, with images both mundane and magical. What seem to be dreams may or may not be dreams. Cats and Coyotes have distinctly human qualities. And the moon is more than just a dead rock.

In the central role, relative newcomer Melissa Solorzano is sexy, earthy and gives urgency to her character's plight. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Broad Ripple High/London Academy grad works on next. Unfortunately, of her partners and would-be partners, only Matthew Roland as Moon is able to handle the challenging material. Without strong forces to work against, heat can't generate, leaving the show interesting but without strong impact.

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