Reviewed by Stephen Visser
Last night, we had the privilege of attending The Flint REP ‘s dynamic, World Premiere opening of Songs About Stuff, based on the music of Wally Pleas ant (a Michigan native). Conceived by Michael Lluberes; this one of kind theatrical event will leave you in stitches. No, really. It’s dangerous. There was a healthy amount of choking. And Friday night’s quaint, but receptive audience was here for all of it.
As befits a show about love, life, and all the weird stuff that happens along the way, Lluberes has created the perfect atmosphere for his wildly talented troupe of four to awaken the audience with short vignettes about the “moshpit of life”. Shane Cinal’s scenic design is simple, and absolutely stunning. The stage is small, but workable for this cabaret-style performance space. The space in front of the stage was festooned with adorable cocktail tables for our more intimate theatregoers.
Lighting designer, Chelsie McPhilimy’s eye-catching design pairs nicely with Cinal’s breathtaking set. McPhilimy has beautifully crafted special-focus lights that provide this show with an undeniable intimacy that it deserves. Between her Michigan-themed special fixed lighting that serves as a backdrop of sorts, and her perfectly lit focused lighting, McPhilimy’s design allowed for seamless transitions from vignette to vignette. Which of course, is so important to this kind of show.
Lluberes has assembled an incredible cast of players, all of which have strong, beautiful voices. Individually, they are able to capture these different characters perfectly; together they are able to offer one-uniform voice as any strong troupe does.
Let’s begin with Gage Webster, the resident pretty-boy tenor with a voice like butter. Webster is a powerhouse in this show. His rendition of “I Wanna Be A Popstar” will make you belly laugh. Between his salacious dance moves, and his strong, beautiful voice, he commanded the stage perfectly. While Webster had so many memorable moments, his “Two For One Coupon” was a real crowd pleaser. Without giving away too much, he plays the role of the cheap, self-centered boyfriend perhaps a little too well.
Next, we had the incredibly talented Amanda Kuo. While Kuo provided impressive vocals throughout the night, her impeccable timing in “My Psycho Roommate” left the audience in a laughing fit! It was second only to her rendition of “The Day Ted Nugent Killed All The Animals”. Lluberes staged this number as an open mic night, and Kuo’s performance was perfection reminiscent of Idina Menzel’s “Over The Moon” in Rent. But this was much, much better. She had a real opportunity to show off her acting chops with this one and did so flawlessly. Keep an eye out for this upcoming senior at The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor.
Another player with many memorable moments was Joshua Cornea. This young man is a natural comedian, and he committed to every single character he portrayed completely. This commitment seemed especially tangible in his rendition of “I Want A Stalker”. Cornea assaulted some front row audience members with his highly elastic facial expressions. The audience loved him. Another great moment for Cornea was his version of “Small Time Drug Dealer”. Cornea had a strong presence onstage, and is obviously a seasoned comedian.
Finally, Mary Paige Rieffel rounded out this troupe with extraordinary vocals throughout the night. Rieffel had the audience rolling with her rendition of “Hippies Lament”. Rieffel was charged with imitating the many stereotypes of hippies, and she hit it out of the park. Another memorable moment for Rieffel was her duet with Webster in “Let’s Play Life” where she gave us a small glimpse of the young love that we have all experienced. Her performance was fun, and read so authentically. Finally Kuo, Rieffel and Cornea were simply hysterical in their rendition of “That’s Evolution” (inclusive of a super fun dance break).
These players worked flawlessly together. This truly was a refreshing night of theatre. The players were accompanied by a highly energetic on-stage live band (piano, guitar and percussion). The musicians provided the perfect balance between vocals and accompaniment. Kudos to Musical Director Brian Buckner for captivating Friday night’s audience with some immensely beautiful harmonies. The harmony in “If I Were” was absolutely sensational.
Overall, The Flint REP should be congratulated on an incredible world premiere of such a relatable show! Songs About Stuff continues at the Flint Repertory Theatre through Sunday, June 9th. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for teens & seniors and $8 for college students. Genesee County residents receive a 30% discount on all performances and subscriptions. Tickets may be purchased through the Whiting Ticket Center at 1241 E Kearsley St., Flint, Michigan. Tickets may also be purchased by phone at 810.237.7333 or online through www.FlintRep.org