The Landing, which is making its regional premiere at Deep Dish Theater Company in Chapel Hill, is an interesting mixture of three different musicals, with the same cast of four very talented actors, each playing a new and different character in each segment, held together by musical and philosophical themes. The music of John Kander, known for his scores of Chicago and Cabaret, ranging from brassy and grindy to tender and heart-melting, is the hallmark of this production as well. Greg Pierce’s stories deal with parenting, discovery, loss, betrayal, bullying, violence, unsatisfied yearnings, gay adoptive parentage, the vagaries of life and death and perhaps a bit of the supernatural.
Thomas Mauney has designed a versatile set that is appropriate for the kitchen being renovated, and a bedroom in a New England home, the living room and some spectral space in suburban Connecticut home and a sophisticated Upper West Side apartment in New York City. Built of blocks and stairs, the set has plenty of space for characters to exercise their craft, and with pieces that become other pieces as locations change. The right quarter of the space is occupied by the four-piece orchestra, making them integral to the narratives.
Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick has found a cast that can dive into their characters, and leads them through their life stories with alacrity, fully utilizing the set from side to side and top to bottom. This appears to be a six-person ensemble: director, orchestra, and a cast of four achieving a unity of mind and action. (See below for his director’s notes on this musical.)
The orchestra includes and is led by musical director Glenn Mehrbach. Deb Cox takes the kudos for her costumes.
In “Andra,” the first of the trilogy, Neil Bullard, a young actor we have been following eagerly for two years now, very believably creates Noah, a bullied, curious, outgoing kid, searching for a friend and mentor. Ben, the mentor he finds, is played scrupulously by John Allore. Mark Ridenour narrates the story in a homespun, folksy manner that never betrays the plot twist, and Erin Tito plays the uptight Mom with edge.
In “The Brick,” Neil Bullard gives us a nice kid spending some time with his aunt and uncle in Connecticut, a kid who watches his aunt turn her fantasy into insanity, and must do some growing up to express his love. His growth as an actor is amply demonstrated in this piece.
Also in “The Brick,” John Allore brings to life the boring Uncle Cliff and several other characters, making each of them separate, unrelated entities. Erin Tito and Ridenour, as Aunt Charl and The Brick, are funny and delightful in the song and dance routines that camp up “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in great style; and choreographer Chasta Hamilton Calhoun is to be applauded for this great exhibition.
The title piece, “The Landing,” has a gut-wrenching twist that shows off more of Neil Bullard’s expanding craftsmanship, as well as displaying the emotional ranges of John Allore and Mark Ridenour. Erin Tito also expresses great emotional depth as the show ends.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/11/03/4290188_review-strong-deep-dish-production.html; and Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7049.
Deep Dish Theater Company presents THE LANDING at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 and 6, 8 p.m. Nov. 7 and 8, 2 p.m. Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and 13, 8 p.m. Nov. 14 and 15, 2 p.m. Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20, and 8 p.m. Nov. 21 and 22 in Deep Dish’s performance space at 201 S. Estes Dr., Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514, between The Print Shop and the Public Library in University Mall.
TICKETS: $25 ($21 students and $23 seniors and educators), with a $2 discount for Wednesday and Thursday shows. Also, on Wednesdays, a certain number of “Cheap Dish” tickets will sold at the door for just $14.
BOX OFFICE: 919-968-1515 or https://www.vendini.com/.
2014-15 SEASON: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/productions.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/deepdishtheater, and https://twitter.com/deepdishtheater.
NOTE 1: Dramaturg Jenni Rajewski will present a pre-show “Meet-the-Play” talk at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 7th.
NOTE 2: There will be a post-performance discussions on Sunday, Nov. 9th, with the cast and Gregory Kable of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Dramatic Art), and a Meet-the-Designers discussion on Thursday, Nov. 13th, with the production staff.
NOTE 3: The Deep Dish Book Selection, Tenth of December by George Saunders, will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 18th, at the Chapel Hill Public Library, 100 Library Dr., Chapel Hill, NC 27514. (For details about the Deep Dish book discussions, click http://www.deepdishtheater.org/news?n=116.)
The Landing (2013 musical): http://www.theatricalrights.com/landing (Theatrical Rights Worldwide).
John Kander (music): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6837 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kander (Wikipedia).
Greg Pierce (book and lyrics): http://www.piercegreg.com/ (official website).
Paul Frellick (Deep Dish Theater Company artistic director): http://www.deepdishtheater.org/about (Deep Dish bio).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.
Director’s Notes by Deep Dish Artistic Director Paul Frellick
The Landing is not your typical musical — in fact, even when John Kander is in big Broadway mode, his shows challenge assumptions about what constitutes musical comedy. The rise of Nazism in Germany, the perversion of the American justice system, the struggles of two Central American political prisoners, the trials of the Scottsboro Boys — John Kander has always been driven to discover how music can inform and illuminate the dark complexities of our lives.
Working for the first time with Greg Pierce, a young playwright with a keen ear, a wicked sense of humor and great empathy for vulnerable souls, he has fashioned a score that works on a variety of levels and pares his trademark musicality down to an intimate scale.
This is the first production of the piece following its initial New York outing; and an army of agents, copyists, and publishers have been rushing materials to us as they become available. As it happens, most of those folks are also hard at work bringing to Broadway a revamped version of another John Kander opus, a musical version of [Friedrich] Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, directed by John Doyle and starring no less than Chita Rivera. So, things have been just a little more hectic than usual with this production.
Ours is such a lovely space to hear music — the acoustics are pretty impressive, considering that the theater used to be a men’s formal wear store — and of course the relationship between the actors and the audience is unusually direct and cozy.
Glenn Mehrbach, whose musical work has graced stages across the country and around the Triangle, is eliciting a rich and enticing sound from our singers, who’ll be supported by an accomplished quartet of musicians — piano, cello, reeds and percussion — playing a score that is recognizably Kander’s and at the same time very different.
The Landing is one of those shows that need to come with an automatic “Spoiler Alert,” as it’s hard to talk at any length about it without giving something away; and so much of the fun is in the unexpected twists and turns of the ride. Each of the three stories it tells has a mystery at its core; but each one has a narrative, characters, and style all its own. What they share is a central figure of a young boy, and the youthful sense of mischief, wonder, and unpredictability woven throughout this one-of-a-kind musical makes it a perfect Halloween treat.