“Beatsville” is a hip new musical making its world premiere at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. The Asolo tends to explore new musicals in late spring; and I applaud the theater’s efforts to support something so crucial to musical lovers like me – new productions. The theater world places a heavy emphasis on revivals such as the first production of the Asolo season, perhaps the most perfect Broadway musical, “Guys and Dolls,” which are as they say, “s’wonderful,” it is also critical to expand the canon of musicals. Important theaters like the Asolo serve as an ideal breeding ground for emerging new productions.
“Beatsville” is set in 1959 in a fictional watering hole called the Yellow Door Cafe in Greenwich Village. I spent my first summer in New York City in my mid-twenties living in the Village, and it was an absolute blast. The coffee shops were incredible; and I met so many interesting characters, although none quite so colorful as those who populate “Beatsville.” Even though “Beatsville’s” director Bill Berry said that the main character Walter Paisely (Max Crumm) is meant to be the stand in for the audience in his nearly breathtaking desire to be cool, I instantly felt a major connection with Max’s love-interest Carla Greenberg (Lauren Marcus), an overprotected, bright color wearing young woman who loves the arts and descends on the Village seeking adventure (sound familiar?) Marcus stole the show – she has a wonderful voice, a tremendous stage presence, and a gleeful innocence that is infectious. I also enjoyed Crumm’s portrayal of Walter, the bus boy with a dream, who falls for Carla. Crumm also has a clear resonant voice and a great sense of movement both self-conscious in early scenes and later, oddly sleek, particularly as he develops his confidence.
Berry said that in reworking the script for the world premiere this summer, the show runners have focused on making the relationship of Walter and Carla as the centerpiece of the show. My recommendation would be to place even more emphasis on their relationship as they continue the show’s short run in Sarasota. The two have great chemistry, even though they are not the musical genre’s typical case of opposites attract, which makes their connection even more special. The scenes with the two, particularly their duets in the second act, are the strongest parts of the production. Also delightful are the chorus of beatniks, Natasha (Cayman Ilika) and the Claudes (Charlie Johnson and Connor Russell), who aim to help Walter become cool. The Claudes are lithe and nimble on stage and Natasha is a steadfast and confident beatnik who does a great job keeping the extremely bizarre plot afloat. Also noteworthy was Michael Thomas Holmes, who is hilarious as Leonard, the owner of the Yellow Door, and the one person who is on to Walter’s nefarious scheme.
Act One ran a bit long and dragged as we became painfully aware of the lengths Walter would go to be cool and win Carla’s affection. Walter’s transition from nebbishy busboy to cool artist doesn’t quite feel earned, but tightening Act One can easily resolve that. The premise, while extremely dark, is clever and unique; and the sets and choreography, an intriguing mixture of style and creepiness, perfectly complement the B-movie plot.
This world premiere musical continues until May 28, 2017 at Asolo Repertory Theatre.