Every now and again an inspired piece arrives in the theatre which gives its audience relatable and very real insight about life as we know it, or answers questions about what we don’t. Beyond Sight the new musical by Nick Sivakumaran and writer/director Jeremy Aldridge., presented in collaboration with CRE Outreach, an organization that empowers the visually impaired and military veterans through theatre, does just that.
It’s not that there is a higher wisdom or hidden Yoda-like message imparted in this presentation. Rather, there is a certain empathy, understanding and assent that is lent to the audience, the players and the subjects involved.
Beyond Sight at the Stella Adler Theatre has accumulated an interesting cast of characters. Professional regular stage actors and real military vets; the lead, (older) Jack Carter, played by Robert Smith, being totally blind since birth, as well as former U.S. Marine (with 4 military deployments under her belt) Ginger Lawrence, who plays the female love interest, Lily McCord.
Acting as a vehicle to raise awareness, Beyond Sight asks us to re-examine the overwhelming challenges that veterans face upon their return home. Artistic Director Greg Shane writes, ” We believe that audiences are ready to embrace this raw and authentic production.” And at opening night, there was not a truer statement to be made. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.
In many way, this play, a fictional story born out of exerpts from the real-life experiences of the military veterans themselves, about a soldier who returns to the U.S. after losing his sight during combat in Afghanistan, barely skims the surface of the multitude of issues, and how veterans re-entering society attempt to cope with them. They run the gamut — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), physical and emotional scarring, dismemberment, possible captivity and confinement, and more; a change of life that has been completely abrupt. Mostly, these men and women deal with a more insidious problem – isolation. Beyond Sight even only touching upon these points, makes what would potentially be much more horrifying to know, remarkably digestible. The impact and result, from speaking with cast and other audience members, is catharsis.
The music written by Mark P. Leonard and Colin Simson with lyrics by Greg Shane, Colin Simson and Mark P. Leonard, is undoubtedly the most encompassing and wonderful component of this play. Although raw, choppy, and not voiced as well as it could be, it is truly beautiful and moving. The melodies and fiery cantations with so many unexpected lyrical surprises, illuminate and intensify the story so well, imbuing the dialog and the interspersed dance numbers, with abundant emotional dimension.
As an overall production, even as it stands at this moment, more a work in progress rather than a full-blown musical, Beyond Sight is a hit in the making with a lot of legs. Players in this cast to note: Raufel Muhammad plays a charismatic young Jack Carter; Ginger Lawrence’s (Lily) vocal register is painfully beautiful; K.J. Middlebrooks (Tyrone) throws down some real grit and hard edge, actress/singer Shannon Nelson (Dr. Linda Ness), in her second act number “sings this show home”. And finally the performance of Robert Smith powerfully embraces the audience. The entire ensemble is a dedicated group who round out this show nicely from start to finish.
All in all, a genuinely moving experience.
Book by Nick Sivakumaran and Jeremy Aldridge
Music by Mark P. Leonard and Colin Simson
Lyrics by Greg Shane, Colin Simson and Mark P. Leonard
Directed by Jeremy Aldridge
Musical Director Mark P. Leonard
Choreography by Allison Bibicoff
Starring Tristan Bailey, Graig Churchill, Geoffrey Dwyer, Sean P. Gorecki, Monica Green, Ginger Lawrence, Chayce Lee, Christopher Loverro, Cj Merriman, K.J. Middlebrooks,Anne Montavon, Raufel Muhammad, Shannon Nelson, Robert Smith, Dan Woren
Produced by Bryan Caldwell and Laura Hill
Presented by CRE Outreach, Greg Shane, Artistic Director