“Welcome to live theater again!” Sound Engineer Samuel Moss was overheard to utter exuberantly upon greeting several comparably exuberant ‘First Nighters’ to opening night of the Orange County premiere of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s musical, “Edges”! Presented by “The Chance Theater” on “The Cripe Stage” of “The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center” in Anaheim California, with it, the troupe joins an ever growing cabal of theaters returning to what they do best–—offering LIVE performances on stage. (The show is actually the third in “The Chance’s” 23rd Anniversary Season–and the first show presented live and ‘in-person’ since shutting its doors on March 13, 2020, with the previous two presented ‘virtually’ on-line.) “We’re STILL here” echoed The Chance’s Managing Director Casey Long shortly before the house lights were dimmed, jubilantly celebrating their return, not by simply presenting LIVE theater once again, but just as significantly, NEW theater to boot!
Though now renowned as the Award-winning innovators behind such recent musical hits as “Dear Evan Hansen”, “Dog Fight” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical”, back in 2005, Pasek and Paul were merely 19-year-old undergraduates at the University of Michigan who were feeling dissatisfied with the parts they were being cast in for their college shows, so they resolved to write one themselves. Utilizing a setup reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown’s similarly composed “Songs For A New World”, or even Stephen Sondheim’s iconic hit “Company”, don’t be fooled by the tender age at which its creative team brought “Edges” into being though; their end result stands as one of the finer, deeper, and more universally identifiable musical revues to come along in a very long time! Indeed, the initial response to this, their earliest work was resoundingly positive, which encouraged the budding team to continue developing the piece, until it ultimately had its “professional” debut in 2007 at the “Capital Repertory Theatre” in New York.
Billed as a thrilling ‘song cycle’ (which is defined as a series of musical performances connected in sequence by a commonality of theme,) “Edges” centers on four young adults asking classic coming-of-age questions about love, commitment, identity, and meaning, while examining what can occur as we’re teetering on the ‘edge’ of the rest of our lives. Presenting a pan-sexual array of personalities and types, all have one thing in common: each is eager for their future to ‘begin’ (quite a fitting sentiment if you think about it, taking into account what we’ve all been coping with over the last year.) Pasek and Paul’s lyrics exude pithy sentiments and fathom-deep emotional truths, and through them many basic (and often hard) realities are outlined and articulated. These are songs that are meant to be acted as much as sung. In fact, to casually write this one off as just another bunch of dissatisfied “Millennial’ lamentations is to totally disregard the universality of the potent truths explored here. Regardless of which generation or gender we belong to, few among us can admit we’ve never experienced something akin to the emotional conundrums such as those being laid out in the songs throughout “Edges”.
Directed by “Chance Resident Artist” James Michael McHale with Musical Direction by fellow “Resident Artist” Robyn Manion, “Edges” is entirely ‘sung through’ without any formal dialogue and performed sans intermission; but given McHale’s astute Direction and the overall gravity of the material, it never lags. Complementing his (and his players’) efforts is Bradley Kaye’s Scenic Design which favors a diamond shaped configuration utilizing a series of receding platforms—each bathed in a cheery turquoise blue with several small in-laid yellow panels that are accentuated whenever Lighting Designer Chris Henrriquez’s smooth illuminating effects hit them exactly right. The three-piece rock combo (featuring Jimmy Beall on Electric Bass, Jorge Zuniga on Drums and Ms. Manion who serves double duty on Keyboards,) are placed center at the rear of the playing space, just behind where all the action will unfold.
All four members of the cast are charismatic and vocally dynamic, each playing several roles. Likewise, each distinctly endow the goings-on with a grand variety of performance styles. Jewell Holloway is a remarkable presence as “Man #1”. Gifted with a superior—and truly powerful-voice, in his preliminary chanson “Monticello”, he appears as a young man only too ready for his life to get going once he can “Kiss Indiana goodbye”. Intriguingly too, is how the verses that comprise this particular song succinctly sum up the basic ideas the whole show is built upon: “Someday I’ll pack up my things and move on…and I won’t look back ‘cuz I’ll finally learn how it feels to be under a limitless sky…” His final ‘solo’ piece, “Once I Knew” ranks as a bona fide highlight of the entire piece, detailing the life of a woman who, regardless of whatever life threw at her, never ceased to strive for a life greater than the one she was faced with (which seems to be what all of these characters are so urgently doing.) In it he croons, “I once knew a woman who tried to keep going–who made more of life than what she had been dealt…” (Be prepared though, this one packs an unexpected–and emotional–wallop in its ride-out verse!)
Tyler Marshall himself delivers an equally estimable performance as “Man #2”, frequently portraying a unique cross of ‘boy-next-door’ meets ‘likable loser’ (–then again, aren’t all of them are at one point or another on the verge of ‘losing it—big time”?) He kicks things off with “Along The Way”—a delightfully ditzy recounting of all our boy’s childhood blunders—from accidentally killing the class hamster “Jorge” in third grade to destroying an historic family document on the way home from his college graduation. Even so, through it all the refrain imparts a worthy bit of perspective and even hope about the power of persistence and resilience: “Life goes on; things will be OK. Tomorrow is another day; besides, everyone makes a couple mistakes somewhere along the way…” Later, in the second half, Marshall scores again with his amiable rendition of “Part Of The Painting” in which a man finds that a trip to Greece finally gives him the perspective he had so desperately needed to at last commit to what he sincerely wants from life, in light of the newfound comprehension that: “Sketches are never done; Portraits are never complete. Sometimes it takes time before your back on your feet…but now I know beauty, and I understand peace.”
Every bit as strong is the feminine side of the cast: As “Woman #1”, Sarah Pierce too, absolutely proves that she is one of the production’s major assets. Her “Girl With Dreams” not only gives us an A-Plus introduction to her singing, it also reveals a terrific vocal dexterity considering its many fast-paced lyrics she’s been consigned. Complaining about her selection of relationship candidates that always seem to leave her wanting, she pines of the last also-ran: “This one smells like paint and looks like Shrek, so I’ll soldier along…” Nonetheless, she proclaims that it’s the strength of her dreams that gives her the fortitude and confidence to endure: “You know you want a piece of my tomorrow” she quickly adds. Subsequently, Pierce garners even bigger laughs with the darkly hilarious, “In Short” which commences sweetly enough with her demurely singing to an ex-lover; that is until she gets to the gist of her wishes for him: “Although it came at quite a cost, we both had a chance to grow; I’ve collected all my thoughts, now once before I go there’s just one thing I want you to know: I wanna punch you in the face!” Were that not enough, the outlandish quota practically goes through the roof when she suddenly breaks into a spirited little ‘samba’, before concluding with “In short, I’m over you, SO DIE!”
As “Woman #2”, Elizabeth Curtin is especially gifted with a sublime tonality and eloquence to her song-styling, and she commendably infuses these talents into all of her numbers, easily making each stand out in their own right. In “Lying There”, Curtin depicts a woman suffering from insomnia and near-frantic for a good night’s rest. The reason for her restlessness? She describes her current existence as “life half-lived” with a man she doesn’t honestly love: “I’m living a life where I have to compromise,” she laments; “On paper we’re great; I wish I could love you but wishing isn’t really living, I suppose.” She also excels with “I’ve Gotta Run”, a fast-paced, witty, and just this side of acerbic analysis of one woman’s past relationships and why they didn’t pan-out over the long haul, until she comprehends at length: “Well, maybe I’ve gotta stop blaming everyone but me—pretending that I know what love’s supposed to be…”
Despite collectively having only three pivotal occasions for full-company endeavors, every time it does happen it is always unforgettable. Along with introducing the dexterous quartet of performers, the rousing opening, “Become” essentially lays-out the basic motifs of the show whilst also providing for some exceptional group harmony (not to mention furnishing an invigorating glimpse of the larger, more intricately fashioned musical moments to follow.) “Still, I smile because I need to look strong,” they explain at the start; “And all the while I keep soldiering on. I wanna see me from where I begun–but I’m afraid to be who I am, who I want to BECOME!” At the show’s half-way point, there’s “We’re Just Coasting”–another Top-Flight group outing, but it’s their concluding effort, “Let It Be Like Breathing” which is bound to make you wish they had been granted additional occasions for such big ‘group” undertakings seeing as they all work so well together and ‘off ‘one another.
Happily however, “Edges” treats us to numerous genuinely dynamite duets–such as during the sidesplitting expression of “schadenfreude” titled “Better”, wherein Marshall and Curtin depict a pair just returning from their 10th Highschool reunion, with little or nothing good to say about their former classmates. Drunkenly shuffling through the doorway, they immediately set about reveling in their classmates’ shortcomings: “Maybe it’s me but seeing their life is so bleak leaves me–secretly fulfilled!” Woman #2 belts out. Yet, throwing in a touch of doubt (or reality) in regard to their innate superiority to those “We turned out so much better than,” they both eventually—if begrudgingly–concede: “Maybe thinking we’re the best is just our interpretation…” Prior to this, Holloway and Marshall as a fledgling same-sex couple give us the clever, “I Hmmm You” (hmmm being a euphemism for “Love”—a word and sentiment both are too terrified to state outright.) Regardless of who sings it, rate this one as another of those on-the-money verities anyone can relate to: “At least you’re never boring” they can somewhat agree upon; “I really hope you Hmmm me too.” Right before the show’s conclusion, it’s the ladies’ turn to come together to impress with the eleven o’clock crowd-pleaser, “I’m Ready To be Loved”. Ostensibly commiserating with one another, they wind up interjecting a fresh jolt of optimism when its needed: “I was always the girl who thought she needed to be tough” they assert: “I was never the girl who liked herself enough to feel like she deserved someone who cares–but now I do. I’m prepared…I’m ready to be loved.”
After ‘previewing’ from July 9th through July 16th, “Edges” officially opened on Saturday, June 17th, 2021, where it will perform through Sunday August 8th, 2021 at “The Chance Theater @ The Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center” located at 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. “Fully Vaccinated” performances will be held on Sunday, July 25th at 3:00 p.m., Sunday, August 1 at 3:00 p.m., and Saturday, August 7 at 8:00 p.m. with Proof of Vaccination and Photo ID required for all “Vaccinated Performances”. Face-coverings are encouraged for all performances and required for all ‘Non-Vaccinated” performances. Reservations may be obtained by calling (888) 455-4212 or on-line by visiting www.ChanceTheater.com . Discounts available for children ages 4-12, seniors, students, and military. (Please Note: ALL reservations must be in advance as there will be NO WALK-UPS for this engagement.)
All Photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio (https://trueimagestudio.com) Courtesy Of “The Chance Theater” (http://www.ChanceTheater.com) Special Thanks To Casey Long, Oanh Nguyen, James Michael McHale, Robyn Manion, And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Chance Theater’s” 2021 OC Premiere Production Of Pasek And Paul’s “Edges” For Making This Story Possible.