Signature Theatre CrossingBy David Siegel • Nov 6th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Signature Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through November 24th
$29-$93 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed November 4th, 2013
Fleeting, chance meetings by travelers across the decades of time can spark unexpected reactions. Fear and gloom can be transformed into an unanticipated optimism; doubts and hesitations reduced. This message of the gently moving musical Crossing, created by Matt Conner and Grace Barnes, is one of hope and faith looking to the future. It has a spiritual essence to its outlook.
Through brief verbal “collisions” on a train station platform, it is as if another human being is a destiny-changing angel, quite like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life ” or Monica in the long running TV series “Touched by an Angel.”
In Crossing Conner (music and lyrics) and Barnes (book), use Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” as a lynch-pin, with its belief that “’tis not too late to seek a newer world.” The well-known last line of “Ulysses” is specifically used in Crossing; “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Conner and Barnes previously co-created the musical Nevermore adapted from writings of Edgar Alan Poe and produced at Signature in 2006.
With a score both of Conner’s ten new songs and one classic gospel tune, Crossing moves across the broad sweep of time and events over the past two centuries. A cast of nine has interwoven encounters from seven time periods representing key moments in American history. There is plenty of dialogue to go along with the score and swelling music to pump up the emotions.
Conner’s lyrics and music are a very effective pastiche of genres; gospel-infused, up-beat soft-rock, as well as subdued ballads. There is little harshness or dissonance. The music direction by Gabriel Mangiante, with her eight piece orchestra underpins the production, rather than overpowering it.
Some Crossing song titles give indications of what their full lyrics with their overall message of hope provide. From the opening full company number “Here I Am,” to “Someone, Something, Somewhere,” “After the Rain” and “Little Miracles” as well as “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and the classic “We Shall Overcome.”
Eric Schaeffer is both Crossing‘s director and scenic designer. He keeps his cast constantly active and moving, sometimes with purpose and sometimes burning nervous energy. The scenic design is simple on the eye; the cast wanders about a rail platform with a two-story clapboard station in the back ground. There is a truncated rail track between audience and set. The lighting by Chris Lee is expressive. When the lighting design (Chris Lee) uses a single color with multiple hues of as violet or rose to bathe the set and characters, there is much added visual pop. The costumes by Kathleen Geldard give plenty of historical visual cues to particular eras as the characters cross time boundaries.
The singing in solos and in the company is impeccable, though your reviewer did wish for some deeper tones in the voices at times. Your eyes and ears stay glued to them as they bring forth the up-lifting lyrics. The cast includes Signature veterans Austin Colby, Florence Lacey, Christopher Mueller, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nova Y. Paton, Chris Sizemore and Peggy Yates along with newcomers Ines Nassara, a recent graduate of Signature’s Musical Theatre Institute, and John Ray, a Northern Virginia middle school student.
Paton, is the “unknown woman” bringing spirit to the evening. She is one powerhouse voice with hands raised up to Heaven. Her character shadows the others throughout the production. At times she actively intercedes in the happenings as if a messenger from Above. Olivera’s character, a wife in America after WWII, is worn down by her unfulfilled life. She is just mesmerizing in her silences; showing pain, sorrow and despair, as if she has remembered something in her own life.
Sizemore, as a rich man from the Depression era, brings a knowing decency in his interactions with other characters. Lacy, in the role of a woman in the 1970’s, is at times over-done with her annoyance and anger waiting for an expected visit from her daughter. Mueller plays his character, a young backpacker of today, with an engaging liveliness.
The show has its weakness, as most things do. The dialogue can sound too earnest; much like greeting card truckle. The characters meet-up so easily, just by walking around and saying “hi” as an introduction. An individual’s issues and troubles can seem all-too easily cured. This reduces the emotional wallop of the production; things just don’t look hard as interpersonal warmth blunts-out negatives.
Crossing is a cozy, no-intermission 85 minutes with a sentimental Holiday Season sensibility of trust for the future. There is a lovely quietness to it. That things will get better. That is of value at anytime of the year.
Photos by Teresa Wood
- Soldier, 1917: Austin Colby
- Woman with Flowers, 1977: Florence Lacy
- Backpacker, 2013: Christopher Mueller
- Civil rights Marcher, 1963: Ines Nassara
- Woman in Pink, 1954: Tracy Lynn Olivera
- Unknown Woman: Nova Y. Payton
- Child 1954: John Ray
- Wealthy Man, 1929: Chris Sizemore
- Mother, 1917: Peggy Yates
- Book: Grace Barnes
- Music and Lyrics: Matt Conner
- Additional Lyrics: Grace Barnes
- Director: Eric Schaeffer
- Orchestration: August Eriksmoen
- Music Director: Gabriel Mangiante
- Scenic Design: Eric Schaeffer
- Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
- Lighting Design: Chris Lee
- Sound Design: Lane Elms
- Stage Manager: Kerry Epstein
- Keyboard/Conductor: Gabriel Mangiante
- Reeds: Ben Bokor
- Horn: Amy Smith
- Trumpet: Brent Madsen
- Cello: Aron Rider
- Guitar: Gerry Kunkel
- Bass: Bill Hones
- Drums: Paul Keesling
Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9875.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.