An Idealistic young Pope (who, incidentally is named Pope!) is framed for a heinous crime and banished from the Vatican by an evil archbishop on a backwards mission to seize power. Good and evil engage in an epic struggle. Lines are drawn, sides are taken, and confrontations are … musical.
It was a sloppy first act by the performers of Theatre Unleashed‘s Pope! An Epic Musical. When I finally got a breather during intermission my head was spinning.
The material could use an update and it could have been more ‘character’ cast. The delivery of the comedy was slow and sporadically missed the mark. There was also quite a bit of mugging going on, which really took me out of the moment. The staging was sparse and the choreography was barely there — which made obvious that this is mostly a cast of excellent singers, but ones who barely have any dance or movement training.
It’s something one encounters a lot in Los Angeles small theatre. And lately it’s not only gotten me down, it’s become annoying to have to experience such unevenness. It really is not enough for a musical theatre performer to do one thing well, singing or dancing or acting when the genre really does require that you aim to be a “triple threat.” It’s the particularly special calling card of these types of performers. (“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”) There. I’ve said it. Like it or not. I’d like to see more chutzpah and dynamics body and soul as well as a LOT less dumbed down movement and more excitement from every musical and its players hence forth (minus two very brilliant pieces I’ve seen this year – Spring Awakening and Bronies The Musical) making its way through the LA theatre scene. This includes and perhaps especially means small theaters where many shows are being developed for larger stages.
But then during intermission, I had a chance to think about it…really examine my own viewpoint as compared to the rest of the audience who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying this piece. Heck I laughed a lot myself at times, even though there were a few too many dead moments for my taste.
I came to see a musical. That was how it was billed. But being billed as a musical ultimately might be this show’s biggest mistake. Because what was really being presented here was nothing more than one huge run-on sentence of a music improv review…IMPROV — set to music…very clever, upbeat, music I might add.
So when it came time for the second act, I looked at this show with fresh eyes and a very different perspective. Suddenly it worked.
In truth, the entire cast did finally pull it together. They let go. They were having more fun. They got much larger. The delivery was better, the gags funnier and nearly everyone “stepped up” for a great finish.
If only they could have brought that kind of energy and commitment to the beginning, it could have been more or less a home run. At least we got to third base.
Pope! An Epic Musical is Theatre Unleashed managing director and writer, Gregory Crafts’ biggest attempt to date with long form material and in this instance, as a director, it is an especially huge bite to chew off. So bravo for taking the risk. The direction he was trying to accomplish was certainly more than noticeable, even through the milieu of mistakes. And working in a space as small as The Belfry Stage is an unbelievable challenge where, just for starters, dance numbers are concerned. There’s not enough room for a 13 person cast. But Crafts nevertheless, worked out many of the kinks in this show given what was available to him. Of course, there is more to do. And kudos to Crafts for charging a small North Hollywood based company into bigger prospects by presenting a show with such an enormous ensemble.
On the upside, there were some terrific actor moments…R. Benito Cardenas as Cardinal Duncan “pulled a rabbit out of his hat” by throwing down a hilarious and surprising tap number. Actress Sammi Lappin as (Sister) Mary Elizabeth brings all of her spunk and best comedic delivery for the big Pope “save”, and the accompanying gun slinging sisters (nuns) “turn out” the Vatican Commando style for a completely silly finish. Actor Shawn Cahill brought his Mike Myers “Goldmember” A-game delivery nailing the second act showdown. Jase Lindgren as Pope…just dreamy.
Lindsay Anne Braverman Mary Frances
Shawn Cahill^ Archbishop
R. Benito Cardenas Cardinal Duncan
Eric Cire* Cardinal Chuck
Sheldon Creig Cabrera-Miller Swing
Jude Evans Dexter / Cardinal Archie
Chris Farah Linda
Elisabeth Anne C. Fenning* Mary Katherine
Kire Horton Swing
Sammi Lappin* Mary Elizabeth
Jase Lindgren Pope
Mark Lopez Swing
Pat Scott Swing
Melissa Strauss^ Swing
Gregory Crafts* Director / Producer
Sheldon Creig Cabrera-Miller Choreographer
Luis Antonio Gonzalez Assistant Music Director / Pianist
Nate Johnson Illustrator
Jim Martyka* Publicity
J. Anthony McCarthy* Fight Choreographer
Justin Moran Playwright / Lyricist
Mandy Muenzer* Assistant Choreographer
Christopher Pappas Composer / Music Director
Erin Scott* Stage Manager
Jenn Scuderi* Graphic Design
Cameron Stark Assistant Stage Manager
At the Belfrey Stage, Upstairs @ The Crown
11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood, CA 91602
* indicates a Member of the Theatre Unleashed Ensemble
^ indicates a Member of Actors’ Equity Association, The Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.