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REVIEW: “Edges” — Chance Theater, Anaheim

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

"We're always attracted to the edges of what we are, out by the edges where it's a little raw and nervy" — E. L. Doctorow, American Novelist, Ragtime

Celebrating their 23rd Anniversary Season, Chance Theater is proud to present the clever and charming Orange County premiere of Pasek and Paul’s musical, “Edges,” winner of the Jonathan Larson Award, and the first show to be presented live and in-person since shutting their doors on March 13, 2020. Directed by Resident Artist James Michael McHale and Music Directed by Resident Artist Robyn Manion, “Edges” is being performed on the Cripe Stage through August 8th with a combination of regular performances and fully vaccinated performances.

Before they wrote “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Dogfight,” and many other modern musical classics, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote a thrilling song cycle about four burgeoning adults asking classic coming-of-age questions about love, commitment, identity, and meaning. For the first time in Orange County, see how the Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Golden Globe Award-winning song team started their journey — with a charming, honest examination of adulthood that explores what happens when we’re teetering on the edge of the rest of our lives.

L-R: Tyler Marshall, Elizabeth Curtin, Jewell Holloway, Sarah Pierce

“Edges” stars Sarah Pierce (Woman #1; “Ragtime,” “Hairspray”), Elizabeth Curtin (Woman #2; Newsies,” “Evita”), Jewell Holloway (Man #1; “The Wiz,” “Into the Woods”), and Tyler Marshall (Man #2; “James and the Giant Peach,” “ Disney’sThe Little Mermaid”).

As you can see, they don’t have names or even consistent personalities in the show. They are archetypes who change with each song because each song is its own mini story. There is no through plotline, but there is a connectedness that ties them all together. Each vignette illuminates characters that are living right on the edge, in an up-close-and personal journey of their trials and tribs, their struggles to love, grow & individuate.

It’s simple, stripped-back, and its focus is purely on the musical performances of its cast. All the songs stand by themselves, tell their own stories and are bound only loosely to an overall theme. Still, musical theatre inhabits a house next door to the house of pop music, where out of the ordinary and unconventional makes fortunes, sticks in the minds of the populace and enters the culture. The point here is that song lyrics don’t always have to be relative, or even deep, only to resonate somehow as worthy and memorable.

Whether perky when characters feel ready to conquer the world, or melancholy when they're sure they'll never ever ever find love, this cast delivers cracking, euphonic songs. Acting a song is a skill in its own right and these singers have an ample supply of it. They manage to remain both expressive and in tune, and while there is no dialogue, these young actors still breathe dramatic life into the pieces. Surrounding the heavier numbers are a few humorous takes on various life situations.

Scenic Designer Bradley Kaye makes smart, efficient use of the intimate space, a series of toned-down platform levels under Chris Henrriquez’ subtle yet colorful luminescent lighting, and Christina Perez brings a variety of contemporary costumes that complement each vignette. Hunter Moody handles Sound Design. With lavalier mics, actors have a tendency many times to overpower with blood-curdling ear-piercing decibels, but Mr. Moody’s mix, especially with a three-piece band accompanying, was modulated perfectly, resulting in lilting, floatable melodies that became true works of art. The Stage Manager is Nicole Schlitt.

Casey Long and Jeff Hellebrand are co-founders of Chance Theater. Musicians are Robyn Manion (Music Director) on Keyboard, Jimmy Beall on Bass, and Jorge Zuniga on Drums.

“What a way to celebrate coming back to live theater with a show that is so filled with stories that we can really relate to,” says Director McHale. “Oh, and I think the music is incredible.”

The company as a whole opened the bidding with “Become,” followed by Sarah Pierce’s “Girl With Dreams.” Ms. Pierce has cut-through, and assumed just the right wide-eyed innocence and timbre where any gen-X could relate all too readily: "I'm only working at this pizza hut to pay my way through college."

Jewell Holloway has his moment with “Monticello,” an amber light warning against small-town, or suburban drowning: "Nothing ever happens in Monticello. Let’s give a hand for the land of buried dreams. Cause when you hang your hat in Monticello, you end up like your dad and it’s really as sad as it seems." His wide-eyed, charismatic take does the trick smoothly, as he relates local tales in documentary style.

A number of the songs are actually worthy of Jason Robert Brown or say, Adam Guettel, and “Lying There,” as voiced by the incredible Elizabeth Curtin, even hints at a little Sondheim. No, really.

A few others that made an impact were “I Hmm You,” a lively, witty song that has Mr. Holloway and Tyler Marshall tentatively & gradually finding the precipitous courage to express their commitment to each other, vis a vis declarations of love. It's well-executed and funny too.

“Along The Way” sees Tyler Marshall return, for a sweetly comic tale, deftly-wrought, of boyhood grief over a deceased gerbil. Yes, you read right. Happily, our protagonist, despite having not met the needs of his pet, finds consolation in the words of Miss Adams, his wisely compassionate teacher: "oh, life goes on; things will be okay. Though Jorge’s gone, tomorrow is a brand new day."

Ms. Pierce’s take on “Perfect,” a cautionary tale of the dangers and likelihood of innocents, or not-so-innocents, falling prey to puppeteers, is almost chillingly convincing. "Listen. You were right. My friends were bad for me. Thank God you help me see how fake they are. I know. And look. Just like you said I should. I cut them out for good, I should have done that long ago." ...Yikes.

“In Short” is another tailor-made vehicle for Sarah Pierce's striking, sometimes strident, undeniably massive attack. And who hasn't been tempted to well-wish, along similar lines, just occasionally? Oh, go on, you know you have! "…I wanna punch you in the face; stab you with a sword! I hope you lose all your hair! Get eaten by a bear! Strangle yourself with a telephone-cord. Lean out a window a little too far. Don’t look both ways and get hit by a car. Choke on a Now And Later. Get your shoelaces caught in an escalator. In short, I hope you die!" A visceral delivery.

“Dispensable” brought together Ms. Pierce with Tyler Marshall again, who succeed in spinning a touching, true-ringing tale of mutual misunderstanding and sad parting. This song, like so many in the cycle, really nails the emotional experience. And its authenticity is bolstered by the brilliant duo who bring it home, with doleful, moist eyes and haunting vocals. The song has an inviting warmth and depth to the lyrics, and their gifted power echoed in every corner of the room.

“I've Gotta Run” also grapples with the C-word, as in commitment, and empathizes (I think) with the plight of the 21st-century woman, desperately seeking Mr. Right. But how does she know when paradise is found? Once again, Elizabeth Curtin does it considerable interpretive justice. "He took me to my junior and senior prom. We made love like he was being shipped to Vietnam. I even thought of taking yoga with his mum. I thought he was the one. 'Til graduation came. I saw a future that stayed the same. I've gotta run!" And you thought only diapers were disposable.

“I Once Knew” is another high point, showcased by Jewell Holloway, who gives a moving ode to his character's mother, as well as an outpouring of his fear of separation; it plots out the tearing of seams that occurs between parent and teen.

And another memorable performance: In a show about young people finding their way in life, “Part of a Painting” was the song about finally finding that path. The epiphany came in the Greek Islands, making singer Tyler Marshall seem to be part of a painting. In the well-polished and well-turned fashion of show songwriting, he invites his loved one to enter that painting with him. Affecting, in the way of romantic poetry from a bygone era, and beautifully sung by Mr. M.

Ms. Pierce and Ms. Curtin share the honors of “Ready to be Loved,” which marks the completion of the transition from girl to womanhood, and both distinguish themselves in making it palpably believable. "I think I've worked it out. I think, at last, the cloud has moved aside. I've spent a lifetime waiting. Awoke today to find my arms are open wide..." So, hang in there tweenies. A little patience. “Like Breathing” is the company-strong finale; and with these particular singers, there is Atlas-like strength, at times sounding more like a chorus of forty than four. I was thrilled from head to toe start to finish.

With its witty and emotional songs, Pasek and Paul's "Edges" remains representative of moments in young adulthood where one may indeed find themselves teetering on the “edge” looking for their identity – trying to figure out who they have become, how they relate to others, how they express affection, or who they truly are at their core. So, if you’re young and filled with angst (or even just a Facebook fanatic), you might find plenty here that’s relatable.

“Edges” is being performed at Chance Theater @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center on the Cripe Stage, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA 92807. Regular performances: July 17 - August 8, 2021. Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. * All audience members will be required to wear a face-covering.

Fully Vaccinated Performances: Saturday, July 10 at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 17 at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, July 25 at 3:00 p.m., Sunday, August 1 at 3:00 p.m., and Saturday, August 7 at 8:00 p.m. * Proof of vaccination, photo ID, and a face-covering are required for “Fully Vaccinated Performances.”

Tickets are $39.00 - $49.00. Call (888) 455-4212 or visit NO WALK-UPS for this production. Discounts available for children (ages 4-12), seniors, students, and military. Please note: This show contains adult language.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


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