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Review: 'Fall Springs' is a Musical With a Message
By Nancy Salz, Guest Column
11:49AM / Monday, August 19, 2019
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Eliseo Román, L.E. Barone, Matt McGrath, Sam Heldt, Ellen Harvey, Jorrel Javier and Felicia Finley star in 'Fall Springs' at Barrington Stage Company. Photo by Daniel Rader

Can a musical comedy convey a serious message?
"South Pacific" addresses race relations and WWII while also making us smile with "There's Nothing Like A Dame" and "Honey Bun."

Combining two approaches is the difficult goal of the promising new musical "Fall Springs," which is having its world premiere at the Barrington Stage. And they manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, but well enough to provide a very entertaining evening in the theater.

"Fall Springs" is best described as a serious farce – with the themes of fracking, science versus disbelief,  and age versus youth. Confused? Perhaps this description of the fantasy plot will help.

The tiny town of Fall Springs sits atop earthly springs of essential oils, which are starting to run dry. The head of a local company that makes its money off of the springs, one Beverly Cushman (the very funny Ellen Harvey) wants even more profits and hires a fracking company to pump water into the ground to increase the output of the springs. Cue the earthquakes, which grow larger and more frequent as the show progresses. Boom. Hiss.
And yes, the entire theater does shake. The mayor of the town (a wonderfully smarmy Matt McGrath) insists there's nothing to worry about, but Eloise, his nerdy, scientist daughter, (Alyse Alan Louis, a real find with a great, big voice) has the data to prove otherwise. She talks only in science-speak, but we get her drift.

All of the earthquakes and the quicksand they produce are happening just as the town is about to celebrate its semi-centennial. On the celebration dais are the older generation – who, for reasons unexplained, are all single parents. These include Roberto Mariposa (Eliseo Román) who studied dance his entire life; the mayor; the aforementioned greedy Beverly; and a woman named Veronica Mitford (a sexy Felicia Finley), who, other than being the mother of a more important character, has no role that makes much sense.

The younger generation, in addition to the eyeglass-wearing, blond-with-braids Eloise, are all members of the same rock band. There's the base player, Felix (a tall, thin and truly wonderful Evan Hansen-like teenager complete with striped t-shirt named Sam Heidt), who has trouble finding the courage to ask Eloise out; Cooper Mitford, the drummer in the band, (another wonderfully funny actor and singer named Jorrel Javier) and Vera Mariposa, a lesbian guitar player in a "one lesbian town" (a talented newcomer just out of college named L.E. Barone. she is the only non-equity member of the cast).

Into this mishmash of characters at the end of Act I enters another, Noland Wolanske, a derelict who was a former professor of geology and a now unfunded member of the U.S. Geological Survey. He supports Eloise and her scientific data. (Ken Marks makes the most of this confusing character.)

Eventually the town is about to sink – and Eloise and her data save all the people. I don't want to say anymore and spoil the ending.

Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is responsible for the book and collaborated with the composer on the lyrics. He has written some very funny lines. But the book is still a wee bit confusing. It's hard to know at the start of the "Fall Springs" that the show is a farce, even with the actor's exaggerated movements.

Nikos Tsakalakos composed the music and also wrote the lyrics.  A few of the songs have terrific melodies. "Gimme Science" and "The Base Player's Lament" express character and are both showstoppers. Others have tunes that are somewhat forgettable. But the lyrics! Those are witty and meaningful. If only I could have understood more of them. At times I wished for supertitles. A message to the cast members: Enunciate!

Tim Mackabee is the scenic designer. The town, with its miniature buildings that fall down, is charming. And the mural behind the celebration stage with its drawings if American Indians and the cavalry all surrounded by fracking drills is a real hoot! But the raised Astroturf berm with a rock and well in the center look straight out of a high school production.

Vadim Feichtner is the music supervisor. A five-piece rock band hidden under the stage provides the music. Patrick McCollum choreographed the few dances and moves that work well. Special kudos to Stephen Brackett, the director, who managed to pull together the comedy, the music and the serious message.

Even with its seven years of development and backing of several major theaters in the country, "Fall Springs" still needs some work. That said, it is nevertheless great fun and well worth seeing for the entire family. When it heads to Broadway or Off-Broadway in the near future, you can say "I saw it when..."

"Fall Springs" plays at the Barrington Stage through Aug. 31. Music and Lyrics by Niko Tsakalakos; Book and Lyrics by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb; Directed by Stephen Brackett; Choreographed by Patrick McCollum; Music Supervision  by Vadim Feichtner; Music Direction by Mike Pettry; Scenic Design by Tim Mackabee; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Lighting Design by David Lander; Sound Design by Josh Millican. With L. E. Barone, Felicia Finley, Ellen Harvey, Sam Heidt, Jorrel Javier, Alyse Alan Louise, Ken Marks, Matt McGrath, Eliseo Román.
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