SUMMIT, NJ – An engaging new musical by Laura Ekstrand, book and lyrics and Joseph Zawila, music, arrived in Summit this past weekend at its new home at the Oakes Center on Morris Avenue.
With music directed by Jack Bender on the piano, this talented cast puts together a warm, funny, heart-rending collection of songs and stories that seems to have something for everyone, whatever their personal neighborhood memories.
According to performer Dave Maulbeck, many of the vignettes are drawn from the actors’ own experiences, whether it was commuting to New York, being up all night with a baby or joining the PTA.
Ekstrand does a delightful rendition of all the PTA committees she’s been asked to join, in alphabetical order. There’s everything from Art Appreciation to Gifted and Talented to Icecream Interpreters to Welcoming Yearbook.
Noreen Farley, who plays the ‘older’ resident surrounded by young families (with dogs) is both aloof and frustrated by her wish to be left alone. But even she has a soft spot when one young father needs a helping hand. Farley is priceless with her double takes and starchy delivery.
Harry Patrick Christian has multiple roles, with an opening nostalgic trip to "My Old Neighborhood." He’s hilarious as a drunk at a cocktail party, forced on unsuspecting neighbors who will be "treated" to slides about a vacation in Tuscany.
Jessica O’Hara-Baker sings about “The Perfect House,” her dream of a new home. It all takes a familiar turn when the neighbor’s barking dog wakes her early on Sunday mornings.
Jason Szamreta appears as an out of work actor on a train, trying to learn his lines, but interrupted by Maulbeck, who plays an annoying commuter who just won’t let him alone.
In another scene, Ekstrand and Maulbeck have a terrific exchange as parents who meet in the park with their strollers in “The Playground.” Maulbeck’s character is all attentive and loving, while the mom in the park already has delusions of grandeur for her daughter. The whole thing is priceless, as she spells out words, speaks in French and generally gets carried away with a "can you top this" persona.
Harriett Trangucci weaves in and out of an assortment of scenes, especially as the bickering wife with marital problems that she’s more than willing to share with her neighbor.
Scott McGowan also plays a variety of roles, from a whacky husband, to a gay neighbor to a caring friend. His resonant voice carries a number of songs, especially the finale, when all the actors (or neighbors) are on stage.
Act II has some of the most creative scenes, including The PTA and Christmas Time. In this one, a neighbor, with a tasteful wreath on his door, complains about all the other neighbors’ overdone lawn decorations, from inflatable Santas to reindeer to The Little Drummer Boy. There’s a delightful twist to this number.
Wesley Krantz has created a simple set design of rooftops and frameworks of homes, which the actors can easily enter and exit.
There’s a lot more to cull from this exciting new musical that gives a loving look at "The Neighborhood" without resorting to clichés. The first act is a little long and could probably be trimmed with some of the vignettes.
The production continues until Oct. 14, so don’t waste any time in getting there. For tickets call 1-800-838-3006 or visit DreamcatcherRep.org.
Coming up next is an improv, “Multiple Personality Disorder’ on Oct. 27. In January is “The Language Archive” and in April, “Shakespeare in Vegas.” These are all new, innovative productions, performed by pros who work together seamlessly. As Zawila said in program notes “everything you touch seems to turn to gold.”